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The Frisian verb sille shall and its meaning and selectional restrictions

The Frisian verb sille shall is a full-fledged modal. Modals can either have a lexical interpretation or a truly modal interpretation involving possibility and so on. The following pair illustrates this distinction:

Example 1

a. Jouke wol wittenskipper wurde
Jouke wants scientist become
Jouke wants to become a scientist
b. It wol mar net reine
it wants DcP not rain
It has not rained for a long time

The lexical interpretation of modals involves a human subject engaging in a mental process characteristic of humans. The truly modal interpretation involves a subject which may or may not be human, and it involves an event, in the case of wolle want, which takes place easily or with difficulty.


The same distinction can be illustrated for kinne can:

Example 2

a. Ik kin net swimme!
I can not swim
I am unable to swim
b. Ik kin om healwei fiven swimme
I can at half five swim
It is possible for me to swim at half past four

The lexical interpretation of the modal must involve a human subject, which ties in with the modal's lexical meaning of ability, which is naturally limited to humans (and living creatures). The truly modal interpretation may involve either persons or things in an event, which is possible or not. The two meanings are closely related since in many situations the absence of ability will entail the absence of possibility.

The modal sille shall also shows this double face. On the one hand, it has a lexical interpretation, in which it refers to planning, an activity restricted to humans, as in (3):

Example 3

Ik sil nei Rotterdam ta
I shall to Rotterdam to
I intend to go to Rotterdam

In this interpretation, it can even have an event as its subject, after it has been detransitivised:

Example 4

a. Dat soe ik, mar it gie net troch
that should I but it went not through
I intended that, but it did not happen
b. Dat soe, mar it gie net troch
that should but it went not through
That was the plan, but it did not happen

The verb can be found in the form of a perfect participle, as shown in (5):

Example 5

Dat ha ik no al jierren sillen
that have I now already years shall.PfP
I have been wanting to do that for years

The verb can be found as a nominalisation:

Example 6

Lit it net by sillen bliuwe
let it not at shall.GI stay
Good intentions are not good enough

The verb can be found as the main verb in a proverb:

Example 7

Slûge soe ek, mar hy stoar earder
slow should also but he died earlier
Mr. Slow also had that intention, but he died beforehand

The complement of the verb can be replaced by a pronoun, dat in (8):

Example 8

Dat soe er, mar it hoegde al net mear
that should he but it needed already not anymore
He was going to do that, but it was not necessary anymore

It is the lexical interpretation of the modal, as illustrated by the sentences above, which is absent from its Dutch counterpart. As a result, the literal translation of all sentences in this section is ungrammatical in Dutch. This also implies that this use of sille shall is under pressure from Dutch which expresses the semantic contents of the sentences above in different ways.

What Dutch and Frisian have in common is that this modal also functions as a marker of the future and of the irrealis.