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So I am toying with language and understand how to treat basic verbs and nouns and adjectives. But I am stuck on modal verbs like "I should have gone home". I would like to know basically a cheat sheet of their patterns across languages. So I can see what's possible in terms of how it's represented.

For example, "should" in Chinese is 应该 (yīnggāi), and you have an example like:

在 中国, 你 应该 喝 白酒。
Zài Zhōngguó, nǐ yīnggāi hē báijiǔ.
In China, you should drink baijiu.

At first glance, without mastering the basics of Chinese yet, it appears this is the exact same sequence as English.

Googling for other languages like Japanese leave me confused. (I've spent quite a bit of time introducing myself just to Chinese, so I have a relative advantage there. But it takes a while to figure out where things are in each language).

I'd like to know what the range of patterns are for treating an example like "I should have gone home" (3 verbs with modal) in various exemplar languages. What is the range of ways languages implement this? Basically the linguistic gloss for a few different patterns to demonstrate the range.

  • Are there any languages that can't express this?
  • Are there any languages that use affixes of some sort to express it?
  • Do any languages require more than one word to express it?
  • Do any languages make it something other than a modal verb? (Like maybe it's a particle or an adverb or something).
  • Do any languages put the modal verb in a different place in the sentence? Does it cover the full spectrum of possibilities when you look across languages? (i.e., some have it before the main verb, some have it after, some have it next to the main verb, some have it far away, etc.)
  • Etc.
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    For the languages I know well, which are not even that diverse, the way of implementing this is really unique to each, unless the languages are closely related, and even there. That is, I wouldn't be surprised if no meaningful typological groupings emerge beyond phylogenetic ones we already know exist, like Western South Slavic. – Adam Bittlingmayer Jan 25 '20 at 7:51
  • Even some very rough breakdown like verb tense (Romance) vs modal verb (like German) vs some construction with an indeclinable particle (like Slavic) is tough, because the lines are blurry. Half of English is at a point in the language cycle where shoulda has currency and shall may soon be as obsolete as certain tenses of must. – Adam Bittlingmayer Jan 25 '20 at 7:55
  • I'm sure all languages can express "I should have gone home" – all languages can express whatever humans need to express and that one will be everywhere! But there will be huge diversity in how languages do so (eg Irish would use a preposition) so your question is very unfocussed and a good answer seems unlikely. – Gaston Ümlaut Jan 25 '20 at 23:04
  • I suspect if there's a pattern it's more to do with the range of words like should, must etc. For example if you say those lights must use a lot of power in English must can only encode speculation with high degree of confidence, whereas in other languages the corresponding sentence means those lights require a lot of power. We can talk about modals of obligation and necessity but what counts as obligation and necessity seems to vary between languages - I wouldn't be at all surprised if there was a pattern to this. – JD2000 Jan 26 '20 at 12:16
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I would like to know basically a cheat sheet of their patterns across languages.

This is the wrong level to look for typological patterns. We should not expect to see large patterns of auxiliary words for modality across all languages, though there will be some similarity within language families. The exact meanings that are grammaticalised in each language are particular to each of those languages.

At first glance, without mastering the basics of Chinese yet, it appears this is the exact same sequence as English.

You got lucky here because Chinese is almost entirely analytic, and English is analytic for its modality grammar. Had you asked about some other grammatical category it's likely Chinese and English would not look similar.

To study typology you should be looking at:

  • What kinds of structures language can use
  • What kinds of meanings languages encode

Don't assume that unrelated languages will pick similar patterns.

English uses words to encode some modal semantics rather than suffixes like it does for tense, but if history had gone differently then it could have just have easily used suffixes for modality, or indeed not encode modality at all, just like English doesn't encode evidentiality.

Are there any languages that can't express this?

Any natural human language can express anything any other natural human language can express, although not with equal conciseness.

Are there any languages that use affixes of some sort to express it?

Yes.

Do any languages require more than one word to express it?

Almost certainly. (Though I don't know any examples off the top of my head.)

Do any languages make it something other than a modal verb? (Like maybe it's a particle or an adverb or something).

Yes.

Do any languages put the modal verb in a different place in the sentence? Does it cover the full spectrum of possibilities when you look across languages? (i.e., some have it before the main verb, some have it after, some have it next to the main verb, some have it far away, etc.)

Yes.

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