This paper focuses on the cooccurrence of the modal néng and the potential constructions V + de + V. In the first of the paper, different types of double occurrences are singled out, also with reference to the degree of grammatical acceptability by different informants. It will be shown that the contexts in which the ‘néng de-construction’ is fully accepted are mainly interrogatives and rhetorical questions. This modal stacking is considered very natural in epistemic multimodal constructions, as (1).
Tā yì fēnzhōng yīnggāi néng xiě-de-wán yì bǎi ge zì.
3sg one minute should can write-POT-finish one hundred-CL character
‘For him, it should be possible to manage to write one hundred characters in one minute.’
The ‘néng de-construction’ is perceived as mandatory in the relative clauses wherein the nominal head is the object of the potential construction. In these cases, for the head to be interpreted as the object, there must be either the subject or a full-fledged modal, like néng, (or both). For the nominal head to be interpreted as the object of zhào-de-dào, there must be either the subject or a full-fledged modal, like néng (or both). If the subject is omitted, néng is sufficient because it requires an agent and, therefore, contributes to making it clear that the nominal head is the object, not the subject. In other words, the core modal néng is essential for parsing the object relative clause correctly. As underscored by Arosio et al., object relative clauses are typically more challenging to comprehend than subject relative clauses.
(2) a. 不过得把它放在一个*(能)找得到的安全地方。 (PKU Corpus)
Búguò dĕi bǎ tā fàng zài yí ge *(néng) zhǎo-de-dào de ānquán dìfāng
But have.to BA 3sg put in one-CL can seek-POT-reach SUB safe place
‘But you have to put it in a safe place that one can manage to find.’
Búguò dĕi bǎ tā fàng zài yí ge *(nĭ) zhǎo-de-dào de ānquán dìfāng
But have.to BA 3sg put in one-CL 2sg seek-POT-reach SUB safe place
‘But you have to put it in a safe place that you can find.’
Finally, it is also highlighted that, in the negative forms, méi néng can occur as a suppletive form of the negative potential. The former expresses actuality entailment, therefore displaying the implicative feature which is common to many acquisitive modals, such as get.
Keywords: acquisitive modality, potential constructions, semantic orientation
Fabrizio Arosio, Flavia Adani, and Maria Teresa Guasti, “Grammatical features in the comprehension of Italian Relative Clauses by children”, in Merging Features: Computation, Interpretation and Acquisition, edited by José M. Brucart, Anna Gavarró, and Jaume Solà (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 138-155.
Sybesma, Rint. “Zhuang: A Tai language with some Sinitic characteristics. Postverbal 'can' in Zhuang, Cantonese, Vietnamese”. In From Linguistic Areas to Areal Linguistics, edited by Pieter Muysken. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company, 2008. 221-274.