Corpus-Driven Lexical Grammar and the Aspect-Modality Interface: The Case of French Past Modal Constructions
Abstract French modal verbs unite temporal, aspectual and modal values in past-tense constructs such as j’ai voulu faire vs. je voulais faire or elle a pu rentrer vs. elle pouvait rentrer. The semantics of these past modal constructions have been considered a puzzling area, as perfective aspect on root modals forces the complement to take place in the actual world, triggering the so-called ‘actuality entailment’ effect. The present study analyzes the behaviour of French past modal constructions from a corpus-driven constructional perspective. To this end, the author presents a new reference corpus of French and shows that past-tense choice of French modals can be considered a matter of collostructional preference: perfective and imperfective modals each choose distinct sets of verbal complements forming lexico-grammatical patterns. The results corroborate the actuality entailment hypothesis, and give the opportunity to discuss how the aspect-modality interface in French can be accounted for from a constructional perspective.
Keywords French, aspect, modality, lexical grammar, corpus-driven, col-lostruction