6.3.2 Acquisition of Modality in JC

The data provides evidence in support of the claim that modality is generally produced rather late - after 2 years of age (in keeping with Radford (1990) and others for English). In this section we examine the order of acquisition of the modal markers and how they fit in the functional projections of the Inflectional Phrase.


Based on the data presented in Tables (1) – (6), the ability modal kyan and its negative variant kyahn, is the first modal to be produced by all the children in our corpus, with the exception of ALA, who seems to have had a single sporadic production of modal wi at 2;2. These ability modals all emerged after the 2nd birthday, between 2;1 and 2;3, with the exception of RJU whose first production was at 1;11 and TYA whose first production was much later at 2;10.



Table 3: RJU Modal Production Table 4: TYA Modal Production RJU


Table 5: KEM Modal Production Table 6: SHU Modal Production KEM


Table 713 details the total production of all the modals in the corpus. As can be seen, the ability/permission modal is the most frequently produced, accounting for 80% (757 of 950) of the utterances expressing modality. The root obligation modal accounts for 8% (75 utterances) and modal wi accounts for 6% (61 utterances). The necessity and epistemic modals each accounts for roughly 3% of the data set. From a holistic analysis, as presented in Table (7) it would appear that the ability modal was first produced at 2;0, modal wi comes on stream at 2;2.5 and the epistemic modal follows at 2;4. However, looking back at Tables (1) – (6) we note there are huge individual variations with the order and frequency of production of the modals. With regards to the production of epistemic modals, the data does not lend itself to a cross-sectional examination of the phenomenon as 87% (29 of 33 utterances) was produced by one informant, ALA. It was however first produced by RJU (his sole expression of epistemic modality) at 2;4. ALA’s first epistemic utterance was at 2;5.5 months.

13 In order to present a cumulative analysis, approximate age was used for the participants. For e.g. 1;9.5 means 1 year 9 and half months.


Table 7: Total production of Modality

We present examples of each utterance type produced.

87 Ability/permission modal

7) Ø kyan brok dis pliiz? (ALA 2;03)

Ø MODabl break DEM please

“Can you break this please?”

8) I kyahn spin. (COL 2;05)

3SG MODabl spin

“It cannot spin.”

9) Ø kyahn go fors, wiet pahn mi! (KEM 2;07) Ø MODabl go first wait on 1SG

“You cannot go first, wait on me!”

Obligation modal

10) Mi afi muuv di baisikl rait yaso. (RJU 3;01) 1SG MODobl move DET bicycle right LOC

“I have to move the bicycle right here.”

11) Yaa-fi go bai wan biga wan. (SHU 2;06) 2SG~MODobl go buy Q:indef bigger one

“You have to buy a bigger one.”

12) Chrii fi ina griin. (TYA 3;01)

tree MODobl into green

“Trees have to be (coloured) in green.”

88 Necessity modal

13) Wen shi a kum dong yo mos kom ya REL 3SG PROG come down 2SG MODnec come LOC kom luk fi ar yu ier? (SHU 3;04) come look for 3SG 2SG hear

“When she is coming down you must come here to visit her, do you hear?”

14) A mos skid i oot. (COL 2;08) 1SG MODnec skid 3SG out

“I must skid it out.”

15) Im mos it i. (ALA 2;06) 3SG MODnec eat 3SG

“He must eat it.”

Modal wi

16) Di naïf wi kot yo. (KEM 3;00) DET knife MODwi cut 2SG

“The knife will cut you.”

17) Mi wi fiks it. (SHU 2;11)

1SG MODwi fix 3SG

“I will fix it.”

18) I wi jrap ina di tangk. (RJU 2;03) 3SG MODwi drop into DET tank


“He will fall in the tank.”

Epistemic Modal

19) I shuda fit momi. (ALA 2;07)

3SG MODepis fit mommy

“It should’ve fit mommy.”

20) A woda afi get som jakit. (ALA 2;10) 1SG MODepis MODnec get Q:indef jacket

“I would have to get some jackets.”

21) Mosi im a_go jraiv di kyar. (ALA 3;00) MODepis 2SG PROS drive DET car

“Maybe he is going to drive the car.”

In keeping with Boland (2006) frequency in use of TMA markers does not show how productive they are, and as such qualitative analyses are needed. One such analysis is their variation with predicates. There is no general agreement however regarding the number of different predicates a marker must be used with to be considered productive. A criterion of two different predicates is used in some research (Pizzuto & Caselli, 1994); however Boland (2006) posits that to be a very low standard and thereby sets his criterion to five different predicates. Being that the criteria are quite arbitrary, we will present 2 separate analyses, first assuming 2 predicates and then 5 predicates as a standard threshold. Tables 8 and 9 show the age at which the markers are used productively with 2 and 5 different predicates respectively.



ABI/PER 2;3,30 2;3,8 2;0,30 2;11,0 2;7,5 2;5,18

OBL - 2;6,12 3;0,25 - 3;1,15 3;0,28

NEC - 2;7,18 3;0,25 - - 3;0,0

EPIS - 2;6,5 - - - -

WI 2;4,15 2;5,23 2;6,18 - 2;8,19 2;11,3

Table 8: Use of Modals with 2 different predicates


ABI/PER 2;5,14 2;5,7 2;2,0 2;11,28 2;7,20 2;6,4

OBL - 2;7,18 - - 3;1,28 3;1,26

NEC - 2;9,14 - - - 3;1,12

EPIS - 2;9,0 - - - -

WI 2;6,10 2;9,28 2;7,28 - 3;0,10 -

Table 9: Use of Modals with 5 different predicates

The data reveals that the ability/permission modal is clearly the first modal marker to be used productively by all the informants, whether we assume the 2 or 5 predicates criterion. We see however when the threshold is set to 2 predicates, the second marker to be productively used is the modal wi. The order of the productive use of the other markers seems to be individually determined. ALA is the only child to use all the markers productively, including the epistemic modal which is yet to be used productively by any of the other children.

Dans le document The acquisition of Jamaican Creole: The emergence and transformation of early syntactic systems (Page 95-104)