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Brett

The answer to the question is clearly set out in any major dictionary. Take, for example, the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English's entry for 'can':
2. [requesting] (spoken) used to ask someone to do something or give you something:
Can I have a cigarette, please?
Can you help me lift this box?
3. [allowed] to be allowed to do something or to have the right or power to do something:
You can't park here - it's a no parking zone.
'Can we go home now, please?' 'No you can't.'
Any police officer can insist on seeing a driver's license.

And, as Merriam Webster's Online dictionary says, "The use of can to ask or grant permission has been common since the 19th century and is well established, although some commentators feel may is more appropriate in formal contexts. May is relatively rare in negative constructions (mayn't is not common); cannot and can't are usual in such contexts."

The overlap in these two words is because the ability to do something will often depend on acquiescence from someone else. You can't help them if they don't tell you what they need help with. Finally, it should be noted that this kind of overlap in meaning is hardly unique.

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