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Laliberté, Catherine ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-0342-7873 (2022): A Diachronic Study of Modals and Semi-modals in Indian English Newspapers. In: Journal of English Linguistics, Vol. 50, No. 2: pp. 142-168 [PDF, 605kB]


Although Indian English is the best-documented South Asian English, its diachronic development has not been described to a great extent. The present study begins to address this gap by offering a real-time perspective on the evolution of modals and semi-modals in Indian English. It sketches the changes in the frequency of modals and semi-modals in three corpora of Indian newspaper texts from 1939, 1968, and the early 2000s. Changes in the frequency of eleven modals and eleven semi-modals are found to be similar to the trends previously observed for written American and British English: semi-modals, as well as the modals can, could, and would, rise greatly in frequency. An analysis of the types of modality expressed by individual modal verbs provides in-depth insights into shifts in Indian English during the period. The study’s findings raise methodological and theoretical considerations for the diachronic study of modality in corpora in English generally: the increasing amount of direct quotation in news reportage partly accounts for a rise in modal frequency in this subgenre, which constitutes a confounding aspect seldom articulated in the study of newspaper language. Individual modal verbs exhibit different directions and speeds of change that are not reflected in the trajectory of modals as a category, demonstrating that an aggregate measure is not a suitable point of comparison between varieties to determine their degree of similarity or difference in terms of modal verb usage.

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