Feature 6: Modality

Definition and Analysis Method

In an overview of the modality system in Chap. 3,1 noted three key types of modality: [1] [2] [3]

A fourth type, evidential modality, which includes sensory and reporting items, is found in research and in my texts to be very rare and for this reason not included. I further noted that modal resources are very broad, comprising not only modal auxiliaries, but adverbials, adjectives, nouns, phrases and clauses. I described how modal expressions can vary in strength, with speakers taking strong, weak or medium positions in relation to their propositions. Investigating these different types of meaning potential for diverse modal resources will contribute to an understanding of how writers position themselves in relation to their construction of the crisis. I also discussed the Appraisal System, which represents an alternative, but related, method for analysing the interpersonal function of texts. Its relevance for my work is that it provides a means for the systematic description of evaluation, particularly in the case of lexical usages.

To analyse modality I started with a count of instances of modal expressions. In line with the categories above, this comprised a frequency count of all kinds of modal usages, according to whether they had epistemic, deontic or dynamic force. I then considered these usages in context, for example, whether an expression of uncertainty represented the perspective of the writer, or a participant in the story. I further considered the strength of modal commitment and the relative subjectivity of the writer. Comparison of modal choices across time indicated the extent to which this positioning alters with increasing familiarity with the material.

  • [1] epistemic modality, expressing degrees of certainty.
  • [2] dynamic modality, expressing ability and willingness.
  • [3] deontic modality, expressing permission and obligation.
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