Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Double modals

"The Log", as Mr. V has taken to calling it, is abuzz with double modals this morning, first with Ben Zimmer's post on Mike Huckabee using one and then a northeastern (!) US citation. Geoff Pullum has just suggested that might has become an adverb in might could, might oughta, might should. Since the Log doesn't do comments, I'll make my first post here in many months … as a native double-modal user and someone who knows less than any linguist should about how to make sense of them. Basically, Pullum's idea is really appealing intuitively.

For some speakers, I suspect this isn't doubling of any or all modals, but only the might, ought, should forms, what I think are listed as 'past tense' forms in grammars. And it's certainly not just might in the first slot: I have those listed, and ought could, ought might, ought should. Maybe the ought has become an adverb too? Would oughta doesn't sound bad but after a half hour of thinking about this, I'm deep into judgment burnout and maybe that's off the mark.

In checking out the 1994 Mishoe & Montgomery paper from American Speech that Mr. V referred to in an earlier post, I find a much bigger set of forms than I would have thought of (this from p. 9):

Might does seem to have a pretty dominant role here in the first slot. Almost all sound familiar, but a lot are clearly ungrammatical for me (may didn't, must didn't), but I don't see ought in first position, except for a reference to Marianna DiPaolo's Texas data, with oughta + modal. What's the status of oughta vs. ought? Both sound utterly fine to me, but the oughta form doesn't sound nearly as stigmatized to me ... I probably still use those pretty often, far more than prototypical double modals in normal speech.

I'm curious to see how this topic develops.


Mr. Verb said...

See Pullum's update on his post now.

Joe said...

Yeah, and his quoted example of might woulda had oughta sounds unremarkable to me.

JD said...

These double modals all sound very bizarre to me - perhaps because I'm a Brit. Is it possible to have some examples in context please? How does usage differ from single modals? Can you use all these double modals in the perfect tenses (for example)?

On a different note, it makes me cross that Language Log doesn't do comments. I really love/hate 'The Log'.

Joe said...

Here are a few from the Mishoe & Montgomery article noted in the post:

1. It's a long way and he MIGHT WILL CAN'T come, but I'm going to ask.

2. I reckon I MIGHT SHOULD BETTER try to get me a little bit more sleep.

3. Sorry, we don't carry them anymore, but you know, you MAY MIGHT CAN get one right over there at Wicks.

4. They're saying we MAY SHALL get some rain.

5 . We WOULD MIGHT run maybe ten hams a week.

6. If I can't help you now, I CAN'T NEVER WOULD.

And by the way, Suzette Hayden-Elgin says on her blog, http://ozarque.livejournal.com/, that double modals aren't at all stigmatized in her circles.

van said...

Re: "It's a long way and he MIGHT WILL CAN'T come, but I'm going to ask."

I suspect that this is a transcription error of "might WELL can't come", and not a double modal at all.

For JD - "Ought" and "should" imply an indication of a correct course of action, while "might" by itself seems to imply a neutral alternative (modified by the tone of voice used, if spoken). "Might ought" or "might should" have the sense of a recommendation for an alternative that should be strongly considered.

Mr. Verb said...

That's a promising idea about might will, etc. Thanks!