On the History of Studying Modal Verbs in the German Language

Author’s name:

Varvara A. Leontyeva


The article is an overview and a summary of the study of modal verbs in the German language in Russian and foreign linguistics, from Antiquity to the present day, in line with the holistic study of modality in world linguistics. Using the methods of generalization and systematization, the author analyzes monographs and articles by Russian and foreign experts in the field of the history of the German language, functional grammar, and morphology. While a considerable number of works by foreign and Russian linguists in the 20th century are devoted to the issues of semantics of preterite-present and modal verbs in specific historical periods of the develop-ment of the German language, there are still many open questions in this area. Throughout al-most the entire 20th century, Germanists viewed modal verbs mainly as a means of expressing internal modality, i.e., the attitude of the speaker to the action being performed. However, in the late 20th and early 21st century, they began to actively study the subjective use of modal verbs. Much modern literature on the subject is devoted to the study of German modal verbs in the function of subjective (epistemic) modality. This article focuses on etymological, semantic, grammatical, and functional features of modal verbs in modern German and discusses a number of controversial issues, such as the question of whether modal verbs are a closed or open cluster of vocabulary, that is, whether it is possible, at the present stage of language history, to include other linguistic units into the category of modal units, it these other units answer certain seman-tic or grammatical criteria. It is also open to discussion whether there is a one-to-one corre-spondence between a modal verb and the type of modal relations that is expressed with the help of this verb in speech, and vice versa. The author highlights such significant aspects as gram-maticalization of modal verbs, correlation of modal verbs with various types of modal relations, primary and secondary meanings of modal verbs, characteristics of the preterito-presentia, com-patibility of modal verbs, and syntactic features of their usage. The relevance of this study lies in the fact that it gives a more comprehensive understanding of functions and pragmatics of modal verbs as a special lexical cluster in speech.

DOI: 10.47388/2072-3490/lunn2020-51-3-64-76
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Key words modality; modal verbs; types of modality; the German language; history of the German language.


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