Can and could in contemporary British English: a study of the ICEGB corpus

in New Frontiers of Corpus Research
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Abstract

The aim of the present study is to chart the distribution and semantic/pragmatic values of can and could in Present-day British English. To do so, I have analysed the British Component of the International Corpus of English (ICE-GB), covering 1,000,000 words distributed across a variety of textual categories. The quantitative figures of the two modals have been drawn from the whole corpus, while a 10% random sample has been selected for semantic analysis. The data confirm that in contemporary British English can and could exhibit a spectrum of quantitative distributions and semantic values. This is particularly true of the overall higher frequency of can as opposed to could, and the discrepancy between the two modals recorded in their epistemic and dynamic uses. Special attention has been given to instances of ‘dynamic implication’, which are superficially similar to the occurrences of dynamic ability, but need a broader pragmatic framework to be interpreted correctly.

New Frontiers of Corpus Research

Papers from the Twenty First International Conference on English Language Research on Computerized Corpora Sydney 2000

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