May/might have led

Ant_222   Sunday, September 12, 2004, 09:47 GMT
Hello all!

Example: Ā«Infant pacification may have led to the origins of languageĀ». Would it be grammatically correct if I used "might" instead of "may"?

Anton
CalifJim   Monday, September 13, 2004, 06:45 GMT
Anton,

"may" and "might" are nearly interchangeable. The sentence you cite would be equally correct with "might".

"might" is actually less ambiguous than "may", because "may" can mean "has/have permission" as well as "it is possible that".

permission: can, may
possibility: might, may

Can I help you? May I help you? (permission)
I might go shopping. I may go shopping. (possibility)

May I go shopping? Yes. You may go shopping. (permission)
Are you going shopping? I don't know. I may go shopping. (possibility)

"might" is typically only used for permission in reported speech, but even then many speakers do not necessarily change "may" to "might":

Original: He may leave. (permission)
Reported: I said he might leave. [ I said he may leave. ]

Jim
Ailian   Monday, September 13, 2004, 08:05 GMT
Using "might" (as with "could", "would", and "should") often sounds more polite as it tends to give a "distance" between the speaker and the listener. For example, I would never say, "May I go?" to a superior at work, as that seems too impolite. It would always be, "Might I go?"
Mi5 Mick   Monday, September 13, 2004, 09:14 GMT
Where are you from Ailian? "Might I go?" sounds very British. I would only ever say "May I go?" but we probably don't have the same separation of classes here in Australia.
Ailian   Tuesday, September 14, 2004, 11:13 GMT
I'm from Louisiana, USA, though I was raised by my extremely polite and proper Creole grandparents (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creole#New_Orleans_and_Louisiana_Creole). It's quite normal for others from my area as well as for Cajuns, from what I know, and we also continue to use the subjunctive ("if i were..." et al) and many (myself included) still use a voiceless labial-velar fricative (wh) rather than a voiced labial-velar approximate (w).
Ant_222   Tuesday, September 14, 2004, 18:27 GMT
Thank you very much!