Luận văn A study on Evidential Modal Markers in English

Natural languages, true enough, offer speakers many and various linguistic devices to facilitate their communication. That is, these devices are supposed to support the speakers in terms of sharing information together with expressing their emotions and attitudes. More importantly, these linguistic devices do give some certain influence over the listeners or the information recipients’ beliefs or behaviors. These devices fall into the category of Evidentials – one kind of Epistemic modality.

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PART I: INTRODUCTION * * * 1. MOTIVATION OF THE STUDY Natural languages, true enough, offer speakers many and various linguistic devices to facilitate their communication. That is, these devices are supposed to support the speakers in terms of sharing information together with expressing their emotions and attitudes. More importantly, these linguistic devices do give some certain influence over the listeners or the information recipients’ beliefs or behaviors. These devices fall into the category of Evidentials – one kind of Epistemic modality. (1) It sounds like it’s raining. (Evidentials) (2) The rumor is that she was killed. (Evidentials) Linguistically, Evidentials are of prime importance in both spoken and written language. Evidentials, admittedly, are said to come to the speakers’ assistance in expressing well their certainties, their doubts, their guesses, and their hypotheses in conversations and writings based upon the certain and absorbed ground of information. In other words, their utterance is normally said to consist of their attitudes towards the accepted fact in terms of believability, reliability, and compatibility. However, not many linguists have formed a distinctively profound study on Evidential modal markers. Most of the celebrated linguists have paid great attention to discussing Modality in general and Epistemic modality in particular. Palmer (Mood and Modality, 1986), for example, investigates and restricts his study of Epistemic modality to what is systematized and organized within the grammatical systems of languages. Whereas, Holmes (Mood and Modality,1986) presents the expression of Epistemic modality to which is attached the use of the full range of lexical devices in a variety of written and spoken texts. Lyons (Semantics, 1977) then offers theoretically possible examples of objective Epistemic modality together with subjective modality including modal adverbs such as “certainly” and “possibly” mentioned as lexical devices. Givón (Mind, Code and Context – Essays in Pragmatics, 1989) also shows his interest in modality in a way of producing a theory of Epistemic scale, meanwhile Halliday (An Introduction to Functional Grammar, 1985) applies his Theme-Rheme structure to the describing the syntactic functions of Epistemic markers in a clause as message. Also, among the Vietnamese linguists who prove absorbed in studying Epistemic modality, Do Huu Chau stands out as a linguist who discusses the concept of Epistemic modality in the view of pragmatics under his account (Systematic Semantics – Active Semantics, 1983). Besides, as far as learners of English are concerned, to master successfully Evidentials is not an easy task, even for those who are at more advanced proficiency levels. It is well observed that English learners just focus on the use of some certain Evidentials such as “think, sure, believe”, which sound popular and are ready on the tip of their tongue. To put another way, they lack varieties of Evidentials to encode the ground of information in their utterance. Consequently, that is thought to cause a barrier to the communication co-operation, even the doubt about the reliability of the utterance. Moreover, the poor use of Evidentials this way limits them to boring conversations. Given all the reasons, such a good and informatively full-of-knowledge study on Evidentials in English is necessary. Thus, the choice of “A study on Evidential Modal Markers in English” as the subject of the thesis is not accidental. 2. AIMS OF THE STUDY The study of Evidentials in English is centrally concerned with the following focuses: i. How evidentiality is expressed by Evidential modal adverbs and adjectives in English. ii. How evidentiality is expressed by Evidential modal nouns in English. iii. How evidentiality is expressed by Evidential modal lexical verbs in English. To achieve the aim, the study will examine three factors – semantic, syntactic, and pragmatic – that are said to have effects on the use of the expression forms of Evidentials. The study is expected to clarify the relationship between these expression forms and the difference in the way they express evidentiality. 3. SCOPE OF THE STUDY Due to the limitation of time, it seems too ambitious to cover all the means to encode evidentiality in English. Therefore, it is much better and more practical that the study just centers on pure Evidentials. Hence, a relatively small set of high-frequency Evidential lexical items which are restricted to our attention appear to stand out as follows: Evidential modal adverbs and adjectives: seemingly, apparently - apparent, evidently - evident, obviously - obviously, surely – sure, undoubtedly, doubtful. Evidential modal nouns: rumor, doubt, truth. Evidential modal lexical verbs: think, believe, guess, suppose, doubt, see, hear, taste, feel, smell, appear, seem, say, tell, sound, look. Despite the fact that the paralinguistic factors such as hesitations, facial expressions, body gestures, eye movements, etc. play an important role in expressing evidentiality, we find it impossible to figure them out in this thesis due to the limitation of time. That is the reason why we study Evidentials in only three aspects: semantic, syntactic, and pragmatic. In terms of semantic aspect, we will have a focused investigation into the lexical meaning of the Evidential modal markers. On these grounds, we will put them in order of certainty level, which proves useful for our study analysis. As far as syntactic aspect is concerned, we will have a close look at the way the utterances including Evidential modal markers are grammatically structured. Moreover, the position of these Evidential modal markers embedded within the utterance grasps our great attention. From the pragmatic aspect, we find it necessary to deal with the conditions that govern the use of these Evidential modal markers in the process of communication such as speech acts. Additionally, in order to have a more comprehensive account on the culture-specific aspect of Evidential modal markers, we will take account of theory of politeness. 4. METHODS OF THE STUDY Data collection procedure: With respect to the data presented in the thesis, they include primarily examples collected from authentic sources such as TV News Programmes at the website of BBC News ( (the programs broadcast on 4th - 30th April, 2008), and the newspaper International Herald Tribune, The Global Edition of The New York Times, Issues: September 5th - 14th, 2003. These written materials, and T.V News Programmes are all of common topics found in everyday life. All the data were noted down when we were watching the TV News Programmes and reading the issues of International Herald Tribune. The data are collected randomly from these two sources. Yet, the data presented in this study represent only a fraction of the data considered in developing the proposed analysis. With a view to serving the study well, utterances used as examples are in declarative form or the form for statements. A chosen utterance is required to: correspond to the expression of an Evidential modal function, and involve explicit one or more Evidential modal markers which have been mentioned as Evidential modal adverbs and adjectives, Evidential modal nouns, and Evidential modal lexical verbs. Data analysis procedure: The theoretical background is based on the theoretical frameworks by different linguists. Von Wright (1951), Steele (1975), Lyons (1977, 1995), Givãn (1982, 1989), Palmer (1986, 2000), Keifer (1987), etc. propose such well known and convincing researches on which we will rely for the theory of Modality in general, and Epistemic modality in particular. Meanwhile, the linguists such as Belbert, (1977), Barnes (1984), Anderson (1986), Chafe (1986), Willett (1988), Bybee (1995), de Haan (1998, 2001), Nuyts (2000), De Lancey (2001), etc. stand out with multi-dimensional reseaches into Evidentials. That seems to open a world of references relevant in support of this thesis. The presentation of these linguists’ theory is to give the readers a big picture of Modality, Epistemic modality, and Evidentials. However, for the main aims of studying and analyzing the thesis semantically, we are going to take the frameworks by Givãn (1982, 1989), and Palmer (1986, 2000) into consideration as principal ground of theory on which the Evidential modal markers are analyzed. The reason is that we look at Evidentials as devices of modality, which is well supported by Palmer’s theory. Besides, we tend to rank these Evidential modal markers at the scale of certainty level, which is well proposed by Givãn. Furthermore, in terms of syntactic aspect, we are going to follow the theory by Quirk (1972), and Halliday (1985) which forms the basis for the analysis of Evidentials. The two linguists’ frameworks are at my disposal when investigating the position of the Evidential modal markers located within the utterance and examining the grammatical structures built for the expressions of evidentiality. As stated in the Scope of the study, we are going to consider Evidential modal markers in the context of the process of communication; hence, we will take account of the strategies the speaker uses when uttering with Evidential modal markers in light of Searle’s (1969, 1985), and Austin’s (1962) theory about Speech Acts and Brown’s and Levinson’s (1987) theory about politeness. That may well facilitate our discussion about the pragmatic aspects of Evidentials in the thesis. 5. DESIGN OF THE STUDY It sounds appropriate to divide the paper into three main parts: Part I: Introduction The Introduction presents the background of the study, states what the study is aimed at and what specific tasks it deals with, identifies the delimitation of the study, and gives a sketch of methods utilized together with the organization of the study. Part II: Development The Development includes 4 chapters: Chapter 1 is concerned with the theoretical concepts of Modality, Epistemic modality, and Evidentials. Chapter 2 discusses the semantic features of English Evidential modal markers with Vietnamese equivalents. Chapter 3 presents the syntactic features of English Evidential modal markers. Chapter 4 deals with the pragmatic features of English Evidential modal markers. Part 3: Conclusion The Conclusion offers an overview or a summary of the study in relation to modality, epistemic modality in general, and Evidential modal markers in particular. Some implications relevant are brought forward for learners of English and for further studies. PART II: DEVELOPMENT * * * CHAPTER 1: THEORETICAL BACKGROUND 1.1. DEFINITION OF MODALITY A brief glance at two well-known languages, Latin and English is sufficient to suggest that the first assumption can be justified. Latin has its systems of mood: indicative, subjective and imperative; while English has a system of modal verbs: may, can, will, must, etc. The modal system of most familiar languages is formally associated, along with tense, aspect and voice, with the verbal systems of the language (and even gender, number and person are marked on the verb). Yet, modality, as will be seen, does not relate semantically to the verb alone or primarily, but to the whole sentence. Not surprisingly, therefore, there are languages in which modality is marked elsewhere rather than on the verb or within a verbal complex. It is common knowledge that the notion of modality is much vaguer and leaves open a number of possible definitions. Here is the presentation of some promising definitions by some celebrated and granted linguists. 1.1.1. DEFINITION OF MODALITY In Palmer’s theory (Mood and Modality, 1986), modality is defined as semantic information associated with the speaker’s attitude or opinion about what is said. Whereas, Bybee (Morphology: A study of the Relation between Meaning and Form, 1985) offers a broader definition that modality is what the speaker is doing with the whole proposition. Though these definitions diverge on the particulars, they agree that modality concerns entire statements, not just events or entities, and its domain is the whole expression at the truth-functional level. The notion content of modality highlights its association with entire statements; modality concerns the factual status of information: it signals the relation actuality, validity or believability of the content of an expression. Modality affects the overall assertability of an expression and thus takes the entire proposition within its scope. As such, modality evokes not only objective measures of factual status but also subjective attitudes and orientation toward the content of an expression by its utterers. Halliday (An Introduction to Functional Grammar, 1985) views that modality represents the speaker’s angle, either on the validity of the assertion, or on the rights and wrongs of the proposal. It is obviously seen that his definition of modality does not diverge much from Palmer’s and Bybee’s. For the good sake of a manageable study, it is recommended that Modality herein be understood in its narrow sense as a semantic term concerning the speaker’s attitude or opinion to the utterance. 1.1.2. PROPOSITION AND MODALITY Jespersen (The philosophy of grammar, 1924) talks about the “content of the sentence” and Lyons (Semantics, 1977) about “the proposition that the sentence expresses”, both wishing to distinguish them from the speaker’s attitude or opinion. This assumes that a distinction can be made in a sentence between the modal and the propositional elements, between modality and proposition. The distinction between proposition and modality is very close to that of locutionary act and illocutionary act as proposed by Austin (How to do things with words, 1962). In the locutionary act we are “saying something”, while in the illocutionary act we are “doing something” – answering a question, announcing a verdict, giving a warning or making a promise. These ideas are on the basis of speech act theory. Lewis (An analysis of knowledge and evaluation, 1946) proposes that “the proposition is assertable; the contents of the assertion…can be questioned, denied or merely supposed, and can be entertained in other moods as well.” But “modality” in this sense, referring to all the non-propositional elements of a sentence, is much wider than in the sense in which it will be used here. Similarly, Rescher (Topics in philosophical logic, 1968) talks about propositions and argues that where a proposition (which may be true or false) is subject to further qualification, this qualification represents modality. 1.1.3. TYPES OF MODALITY The distinction that Jespersen (The philosophy of grammar, 1924) draws between his two sets: “containing an element of will and not containing an element of will” is closely paralleled in Lyons’ reference to “the speaker’s opinion or attitude towards the proposition described”. Lyons, in conjunction with other scholars, recognizes two kinds of modality, using Wright’s terms: Epistemic modality, which is concerned with matters of knowledge, belief or opinion rather than fact. Deontic modality, which is concerned with the necessity or possibility of acts performed by morally responsible agents. Steele et al. (An encyclopedia of AUX: a study in cross-linguistic equivalence, 1981) implicitly make the same distinction: “Elements expressing modality will mark any of the following: possibility or the related notion of permission, probability or the related notion of obligation, certainty or the related notion of recruitment.” The remarks in Steele et al. can be illustrated from English; the following sentences can be interpreted either in terms of possibility, probability, and necessity, or in terms of permission, obligation and requirement: (3) He may come tomorrow. (Perhaps he will/ He is permitted.) (4) The book should be on the shelf. (It probably is/ Its proper place is.) (5) He must be in his office. (I am certain that he is/ He is obliged to be.) Lyons (1977) also suggests a distinction between objective modality and subjective modality. He presents a typical example: (6) Alfred may be unmarried. It can be interpreted that the speaker may be understood as subjectively qualifying his commitment to the possibility of Alfred’s being unmarried in his own certainty terms and the sentence is more or less equivalent to “perhaps Alfred is unmarried”. There are, however, situations in which the possibility of Alfred’s being unmarried is presentable as an objective fact. The speaker might reasonably say that he knows, and does not merely think or believe, that there is a possibility of Alfred’s being unmarried. In his words: “Objective modality refers to reality; it is part of the description of the world. Subjective modality, on the other hand, is the expression of the speaker’s beliefs.” These are two kinds of epistemic modality. The semantic differences between subjective and objective epistemic modality are significant. Objective modalized sentences are statements of fact; thus, they can be denied and questioned while subjective epistemic sentences, express the speaker’s beliefs and not statement of fact; hence, they cannot be denied or questioned. 1.2. EPISTEMIC MODALITY 1.2.1. DEFINITIONS OF EPISTEMIC MODALITY The term “epistemic” is suggested to be applied to not only modal systems that basically involve the notions of possibility and necessity, but to any modal system that indicates the degree of commitment by the speaker to what he says. In particular, it should include Evidentials such as “hearsay” or “report” (the Quotative) or the evidence of the senses. The Declarative, moreover, can be regarded as the unmarked (“unmodalized”) member of an epistemic system, though by this definition some languages have no “unmodalized” declaratives. This use of the term may be wider than usual, but it seems completely justified etymologically since it is derived from Greek word meaning “understanding” or “knowledge” (rather than “belief”), and so is to be interpreted as showing the status of the speaker’s understanding or knowledge; this clearly includes both his own judgments and the kind of warrant he has for what he says. It is often claimed in the linguistics literature that epistemic modality, unlike other kinds of modality, does not contribute to the truth conditions of the utterance. Relatedly, several commentators argue that epistemic modality expresses a comment on the proposition expressed by the rest of the utterance: Epistemic modality… is the speaker’s assessment of probability and predictability. It is external to the content, being a part of the attitude taken up by the speaker: his attitude, in this case, towards his own speech role as ‘declarer’. (Halliday, 1970: 349) Epistemic modality indicates … the status of the proposition in terms of the speaker’s commitment to it. (Palmer, 1986: 54-5) Epistemics are clausal-scope indicators of a speaker’s commitment to the truth of a proposition. (Bybee & Fleischman, 1995: 6) Epistemic modals must be analyzed as evidential markers. As such they are part of the extra-propositional layer of clause structure and take scope over all propositional operators... (Drubig, 2001: 44) The intuition underlying this view is that epistemic modality in natural language marks the degree and/or source of the speaker’s commitment to the embedded proposition. According to this view, the proposition expressed by the utterance in (9) can be paraphrased by (10); the modal force of the utterance indicates that the speaker entertains the embedded proposition with a low degree of commitment: (7) John may be at home. (8) John is at home. This position on epistemic modality is at odds with several semantic treatments of modality, in which epistemic modality (alongside other types of modality) is s