Soraj Ruangmanee and Kingkarn Thepkanjana

Chulalongkorn University

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The Semantic Extension from ‘Acquire’ to ‘Possibility’:

A Case Study in Thai and Vietnamese


It has been widely known that the verbs meaning ‘to acquire’ are one of the most polysemous words in Southeast Asian languages (Auwera 2007, Enfield 2003 and Takahashi 2003). Syntactically, the form with this meaning in a given language can function as a lexical verb, a preverbal auxiliary and a postverbal auxiliary. Semantically, in addition to the lexical meaning ‘to acquire’, this form conveys various grammatical meanings such as simple past, perfective aspect, epistemic and deontic possibility. This study aims to examine the polyfunctionality of such verbs in Thai and Vietnamese, namely, ‘dây’ and, ‘được’ , respectively. Based on the semantic map of modality postulated by van der Auwera (2007) and the metonymy of POTENTIALITY FOR ACTUALITY proposed by Panther and Thornburg (1999), this study argues for the grammaticalization path from a lexical verb meaning ‘to acquire’ to a perfective marker and a modal marker of possibility. It is argued in this study that the lexical meanings of the two verbs in Thai and Vietnamese, namely,‘dây’ and ‘được’ on the one hand, and the modality and aspect meanings on the other, are semantically related. The two grammatical meanings are arguably extended from the same source meaning ‘to acquire’ by means of cognitive process of metonymy. This grammaticalization path of the verb of acquiring is widely observed and can be considered a prominent areal feature of Southeast Asian languages.