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    THẠC SĨ A study on evidential modal markers in english

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  6. A study on evidential modal markers in english

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    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.


    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.


    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:

    ã Evidential modal adverbs and adjectives: seemingly, apparently - apparent, evidently - evident, obviously - obviously, surely – sure, undoubtedly, doubtful.

    ã Evidential modal nouns: rumor, doubt, truth.

    ã 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.


    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 (BBC News - Home) (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:

    ã correspond to the expression of an Evidential modal function,
    ã 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.


    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:
    ã Chapter 1 is concerned with the theoretical concepts of Modality, Epistemic modality, and Evidentials.
    ã Chapter 2 discusses the semantic features of English Evidential modal markers with Vietnamese equivalents.
    ã Chapter 3 presents the syntactic features of English Evidential modal markers.
    ã 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.

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