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Form and function of the modal adverbs: Recent linguistic change and constancy in British English

  • Daisuke Suzuki EMAIL logo
From the journal Linguistics

Abstract

This study examines the modal adverbs in English including doubtless, indeed, no doubt, and of course from a functional perspective. Although an increasing number of studies have investigated “core” modal adverbs (e.g., certainly, possibly, probably), a comprehensive analysis including these four modal adverbs has not been offered in modal adverb studies. The present study begins to address this research gap by providing descriptions of these adverbs using data from the LOB (1961) and FLOB (1991) corpora. To adopt a more comprehensive view of the set of modal adverbs, I compare the behaviors of the modal adverbs without -ly to those with -ly in terms of their discourse and interpersonal functions in the text, and present the relationship between form and function of the modal adverbs. The results of the analysis demonstrate that the modal adverbs that convey the same degree of probability fulfill different functions at the discourse-pragmatic level. Moreover, the modal adverbs without -ly have increased their pragmatic functions over time, thus signaling a short-term diachronic development. Finally, I provide an explanation of this change in terms of grammaticalization and pragmaticalization.

Funding statement: Funding: This research was supported by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research (No. 25·5013).

Acknowledgments

I wish to express my gratitude to Yoko Iyeiri, Kenichi Kadooka, Kensei Sugayama, and Masa-aki Tatsuki for their helpful suggestions on my research. I am also grateful to Mirjam Fried, Anne-Marie Simon-Vandenbergen, and Elizabeth Traugott as well as two anonymous reviewers of this paper for their critical comments.

Corpora

BNC (XML Edition)=The British National Corpus, version 3. 2007. Distributed by Oxford University Computing Services on behalf of the BNC Consortium. Accessed at http://www.natcorp.ox.ac.uk/.Search in Google Scholar

FLOB=The Freiburg-LOB Corpus of British English. 1999. Compiled by Christian Mair.Search in Google Scholar

LOB=The Lancaster-Oslo/Bergen Corpus of British English. 1976. Compiled by Geoffrey Leech, Stig Johansson & Knut Hofland.Search in Google Scholar

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Appendix: Data for Figures 1–5

Data for Figure 1

Modal adverbsInitialMedialFinalTotal
indeed22014118379
of course27223277581
certainly743103387
definitely035136
undoubtedly1065075

Data for Figure 2

Modal adverbsInitialMedialFinalTotal
doubtless815023
no doubt60455110
probably433721416

Data for Figure 3

Modal adverbsInitialMedialFinalTotal
maybe11185124
perhaps35816312533
possibly15852102

Data for Figure 4

Modal adverbsInitialMedialFinalTotal
certainly [1961]401673210
certainly [1991]341430177
definitely [1961]015015
definitely [1991]020121
undoubtedly [1961]436040
undoubtedly [1991]629035
probably [1961]312041236
probably [1991]121680180
possibly [1961]1045156
possibly [1991]540146

Data for Figure 5

Modal adverbsInitialMedialFinalTotal
indeed [1961]1087413195
indeed [1991]112675184
of course [1961]13714735319
of course [1991]1358542262
doubtless [1961]310013
doubtless [1991]55010
no doubt [1961]3533371
no doubt [1991]2512239
maybe [1961]475254
maybe [1991]643370
perhaps [1961]172866264
perhaps [1991]186776269
Published Online: 2015-10-27
Published in Print: 2015-11-1

©2015 by De Gruyter Mouton

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