Most of the contributions go back to talks presented at the meeting of the Societas Linguistica Europaea held in Leuven in 2001. The volume starts with a global typological view on the sociolinguistic landscape of Europe offered by Peter Auer. It is followed by a methodological proposal for measuring phonetic similarity between dialects designed by Paul Heggarty, April McMahon, and Robert McMahon. Various papers deal with specific phenomena of socially and conceptually driven variation within a single language. For Dutch, José Tummers, Dirk Speelman, and Dirk Geeraerts analyze inflectional variation in Belgian and Netherlandic Dutch, Reinhild Vandekerckhove focuses on interdialectal convergence between West-Flemish urban dialects, and Arjan van Leuvensteijn studies competing forms of address in the 17th century Dutch standard variety. The cultural and conceptual dimension is also present in the diachronic lexicosemantic explorations presented by Heli Tissari, Clara Molina, and Caroline Gevaert for English expressions referring to the experiential domains of love, sorrow and anger, respectively: the history of words is systematically linked up with the images they convey and the evolving conceptualizations they reveal. The papers by Heide Wegener and by Marcin Kilarski and Grzegorz Krynicki constitute a plea against arbitrariness of alternations at the level of nominal morphology: dealing with marked plural forms in German, and with gender assignment to English loanwords in the Scandinavian languages, respectively, their distributional accounts bring into the picture a variety of motivating factors. The four cross-linguistic studies that close the volume focus on the differing ways in which even closely related languages exploit parallel morphosyntactic patterns. They share the same methodological concern for combining rigorous parametrization and quantification with conceptual and discourse-functional explanations. While Griet Beheydt and Katleen Van den Steen confront the use of formally defined competing constructions in two Germanic and two Romance languages, respectively, Torsten Leuschner as well as Gisela Harras and Kirsten Proost analyze how a particular speaker's attitude is expressed differently in various Germanic languages.
On the one hand, there are strongly empirical, corpus-based studies of individual uses of English modal auxiliaries and modal constructions, such as may in interrogatives, might in concessive clauses, shall and may vs must in legal English, the use of surprised if and surprising if constructions, the use and history of adhortative constructions, or the modal-aspectual use of come to in I came to realize that X. The book also contains work that presents new views on some of the classical issues, like the relations between modality and time, modality and commitment, modals and (inter)subjectivity. A special place is given to work that approaches the English modals from the perspective of the 'Theory of Enunciative Operations' developed by the French linguist Antoine Culioli and his colleagues.
Thus the book provides new perspectives and answers on basic questions about modality, in general, and its expression in English, in particular.