Academic journal article Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies

Towards a Pragmatic Analysis of Modals SHALL and WILL in Chaucer's Language

Academic journal article Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies

Towards a Pragmatic Analysis of Modals SHALL and WILL in Chaucer's Language

Article excerpt


This paper attempts to provide the first systematic analysis of the modals SHALL and WILL in Chaucer's language from pragmatic viewpoints. In addition to speech acts and alternation in discourse, this study examined modality in detail, which has a close relationship to pragmatic factors.

Whereas SHALL is distributed across all kind of modalities, WILL has a limited variety, with a strong preference to dynamic modality. The inventory of speech acts suggests a strong connection to relevant modality, although some cases are not related to any particular modality. WILL again has a more limited variety than SHALL. Incorporating these results into analysis, the scope of examination is extended to the alternation in discourse, i.e., discourse markers, successive employments of the same modal, and alternative uses of both modals. The findings here which other studies would ascribe simply to a matter of variation are in fact well-motivated and controlled by various factors such as modality, speaker-based vs. hearer-based speech acts, and social role.

It is suggested that further analysis of discourse and modals in other periods will shed more light on the pragmatic development of the modal and temporal systems in English.

1. Introduction

The rivalry between modals SHALL and WILL has been a well-researched but contentious topic in the history of English. There have been a number of studies which pay particular attention to these modals: for example, Arnovick (1990) and Guthrie (1992) on Middle English, Fries (1925), Weida (1975), Kyto (1991), and Nakayasu (2009) on Early Modern English, and Gotti et al. (2002) on the development from Middle English to Early Modern English. It is well known that through a process called grammaticalisation, these modals changed their syntactic status from main verbs to auxiliaries as well as acquiring, in addition to their original lexical meanings, three kinds of modalities, and a meaning and function close to future tense. The latter can be considered to be semantic and pragmatic changes. Since a variety of factors are relevant to, and have changed in this particular diachronic process, it is of paramount importance to make a clear distinction among these factors and analyse to what extent each of these factors is relevant to the historical development. As far as the Middle English period is concerned, however, many of the previous studies mix up these factors, which makes it difficult to capture a true picture of the synchronic system of the period in view of diachronic development (cf. Friden 1948; Visser 1969; Kerkhof 1982; Guthrie 1992; Gotti et al. 2002, etc.). Arnovick (1990), on the other hand, is one of the few studies which is devoted to the pragmatic aspects of modals in this period with a clear distinction among these factors, although the analysis remains in the realm of speech acts. Indeed, there has been a growing interest in pragmatic aspects of historical data, and this fact highlights the increasing role of a new research field, historical pragmatics (e.g. Jucker 1995; Jucker--Taavitsainen 2010). Studies of Chaucer's language are not an exception to this trend (cf. Pakkala-Weckstrom 2010).

In example (1) below, taken from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, both of the modals SHALL and WILL appear in alternation:

1) And seyde hym thus: "To Atthenes shaltou wende,

Ther is thee shapen of thy wo an ende."

And with that word Arcite wook and sterte.

"Now trewely, hou soore that me smerte,"

Quod he, "to Atthenes right now wol I fare,

Ne for the drede of deeth shal I nat spare

To se my lady, that I love and serve.

(A.KN 1391-7) (2)

How far had the stage of grammaticalisation at that time progressed? Syntactically speaking, both of these two modals in (1) are auxiliaries; then, how were the original lexical meanings reflected in the meaning and function of the modals? …

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