On defining modality again

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49 Citations (Scopus)


Perhaps no other grammatical category in linguistics has been defined and interpreted as divergently as modality. Sometimes vastly different formal categories are subsumed under this label. This paper focusses on the analysis of what are arguably the two major approaches to the definition of modality in present-day linguistics, namely, the one that is based on 'speakers' attitudes and opinions' and the one that is based on a concept of realis/irrealis or factuality. It is argued that the former is fundamentally flawed, as the definition fails to distinguish the formal classes to which it does apply from those to which it do not. In contrast, modality can be neatly and coherently defined in terms of 'factuality.' Speakers draw on the formal expressions of this category as one among many categories as their resources to express their attitudes and opinions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)165-192
Number of pages28
JournalLanguage Sciences
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2005 Mar


  • Assertion
  • Factuality
  • Modality
  • Speakers' attitudes
  • Subjectivity


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