Modal words in English – Part 2

July 11th, 20123:20 am


Modal words in English – Part 2

Modal words in English – Part 1

Compound modal words are formed syntactically, i.e. from set expres­sions acquiring gradually properties of a word. The set expressions may be of various types. Sometimes, these are of the “preposition + noun” structure. One of the conditions that enable this word combination to transform into a modal word is, firstly, meaning of subjective evaluation, and, secondly, adverbialization of this word combination.

Some scholars refer to modal words such word combinations as for cer­tain, for sure, in truth, in fact, etc. on the grounds that these are able to express a number of modal meanings. Other linguists doubt whether it is justified, since (1) meaning of subjective evaluation of these expressions is not their main one; (2) components of the set expressions retain their lexi­cal meaning, which results in the use of attributes (cf. for dead sure, in all truth, in actual fact) that prove that the expressions have not yet been es­tablished as a morphological unity; (3) the set expressions are synonymous with same-root modal words (for certain certainly, for sure surely, in truth truly), which prevents these set expressions from entering the class of modal words.

Another morphological type of modal words is made up of words de­rived from verbs (maybe, meseems). These are also formed syntactically by lexicalization of their components. Their peculiarity lies in that the modal meaning of one of the components comes to be projected onto the whole compound. Morphologically, these modal words are compounds consisting of two stems.

Syntactically modal words are characterized by the function of parenthe­sis, used both within a syntactic structure and as an independent word-sen­tence. Used as parenthesis, a modal word refers either to the content of a sen­tence on the whole or to some its part. When a modal word covers the whole sentence, it is used either in its beginning or in the end. In other cases, modal words are placed in immediate proximity to the structure to which they refer.

In conclusion, it is necessary to mention such words as (un)luckily, (un)happily, (un)fortunately whose categorical status has not been decided on yet. Some linguists regard these words as a specific semantic subclass of modal words – as words that convey the subjective meaning “desirability -undesirability”. Meanwhile other researchers claim that these words have a number of peculiarities strange to modal words. Semantically, they express the speaker’s emotion or volition. Morphologically, such words as (un)luckily may form derivational antonyms by means of the suffix un- and, consequent­ly, are morphologically divisible. Syntactically, words of the (un) luckily-type are less independent, and they also are seldom (if ever) used as word-sen­tences. All these arguments are put forward to deny these linguistic units the status of modal words. This, however, does not prevent us from noting sever­al properties that the (un)luckily-type words share with modal ones. Take, for instance, the inextricable semantic connection between the logico-rational and the emotional-volitional, as well as the syntactic function of parenthesis. As a result, it is quite natural to conjecture that the (un)luckily-type words represent transition cases between adverbs and modal words.

Thus, modal words in English exhibit a variety of derivational patterns and do not possess any distinct formal properties. Meanwhile, the independ­ence of their meaning and their specific syntactic function proves their status of lexical words, though they are characterized by some specific properties.