Constructions as Triads of Form, Function, and Agency: An Agentive Cognitive Construction Grammar Study of English Modals

In: Cognitive Semantics
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The present article introduces an agentive cognitive construction grammar approach to the analysis of English central modals. One of the premises of the new theory is that speaker meaning cannot be captured by looking at form-function relations only but through the integration of additional conceptual layers such as agency, embodiment, and argument structure construction. This theoretical turn is supported empirically by a corpus study aimed at identifying specific modal constructions in the 520 million word Corpus of Contemporary American English. The results show that (i) English modals are reliably identifiable as constructions at a clausal level, and (ii) that, depending on the type of agency (motional or stative), modal constructions can be divided into two main categories, namely modal agentive constructions and modal referential constructions. The results also support the idea that modal constructions are triadic, that is, that they display symbolic form-function relations based on iconic-indexical, and speaker-driven processes (all of which are possible thanks to the conceptualizer’s possession of the concept of objective truth). These constructions provide conceptualizers with the mental schemas necessary to construe meaning across mental spaces.

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