Russian constructions with potentially modal meanings: an analysis based on parallel corpus data

2020. № 3 (25), 35-48

D. O. Dobrovol’skij 1, Anna A. Zalizniak 2
1. Vinogradov Russian Language Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Institute of Linguistics of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Stockholm University
2. Institute of Linguistics of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Institute of Informatics Problems of the Federal Research Center “Computer Science and Control” of the Russian Academy of Sciences (Russia, Moscow),


The present paper proposes the method of identifying Russian lexical units (constructions) with a potentially modal meaning by analyzing translational correspondences. The focus is on the ways in which the meanings expressed by German constructions with modal verbs are transmitted in Russian translation. German modal verbs make up a distinct semantic and grammatical class. The paper considers only the basic modal values of ontological, deontic and epistemic possibilities and necessities. The set of functional equivalents actually encountered in translated Russian texts for German constructions with modal verbs includes a number of units whose ability of expressing modal meanings is not recorded in dictionaries. The article presents a preliminary list of lexical units whose definitions contain a modal component, and provides examples of relevant crosslinguistic correspondences. The proposed method can be used both for further analysis of constructions with potentially modal meanings based on more extensive corpus data (in particular, when involving translations from other languages that have a developed system of modality expressions), and for identifying non-obvious semantic components of other types.