Linguistic Modality

Linguistic Modality

In linguistics, modality is what allows speakers to attach expressions of belief, attitude and obligation to statements. In standard formal approaches to modality, an utterance expressing modality can always roughly be paraphrased to fit the following template:

(1) According to it is that is the case.

The set of propositions which forms the basis of evaluation is called the modal base. The result of the evaluation is called the modal force. For example the utterance in (2) expresses that, according to what the speaker has observed, it is necessary to conclude that John has a rather high income:

(2) John must be earning a lot of money.

The modal base here is the knowledge of the speaker, the modal force is necessity. By contrast, (3) could be paraphrased as ‘Given his abilities, the strength of his teeth, etc., it is possible for John to open a beer bottle with his teeth’. Here, the modal base is defined by a subset of John's abilities, the modal force is possibility.

(3) John can open a beer bottle with his teeth.

A more elaborate account of formal semantic approaches to modality is given in section 1.

Cross-linguistically, modality can be expressed by a variety of means, such as auxiliary verbs as in the examples (2) and (3), verbal morphology (mood) or adverbs. An overview of the various modal expressions across languages is given below in section 2.

Typological approaches to modality usually favour a slightly wider definition of modality and also include meanings which do not fit the template in (1) exactly. Section 3 provides an overview over the range of meanings commonly associated with modality.

Read more about Linguistic Modality:  Semantic Accounts, Modal Categories

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Linguistic Modality - Modal Categories - Epistemic Vs. Deontic Modality
... Examples of the expression of epistemic modality in English are he might be there (low probability, substantial doubt), He may be there (possibility ... In contrast, deontic modality is concerned with possibility and necessity in terms of freedom to act (including ability, permission, and duty) ... In English as in many other languages, some of the same words are used for deontic modality as for epistemic modality, and the meaning is distinguished from context He must be there by now (epistemic ...

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