Home

English and Dutch Modals and the VO-OV parameter

Sjef Barbiers, Meertens Instituut-Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences

As opposed to their Dutch and Old English counterparts, modern English modals do not have participial and infinitival forms and do not take non-verbal complements (as in De fles moet leeg *The bottle must empty). These well-known differences have been analyzed as the result of recategorization (cf. Lightfoot 1999 for a recent version): English modals evolved from verbs into auxiliaries, i.e. functional categories, whereas Dutch modals are still verbs. Although this explains why English modals cannot take non-verbal complements, it does not shed any light on their defective inflection paradigm, as the latter is not a defining property of auxiliaries. Building on Hale and Keyser (1993), Kayne (1993) and (Barbiers 1995, 2000) I argue that the differences between modern English modals on the one hand and Dutch and Old English modals on the other do not derive from categorial differences but from the VO - OV parameter, which in turn derives from the obligatoriness of overt short verb movement inside vP in English and the absence of this operation in Dutch.