Modality in Kenya's 2008 Post-Consultation Discourse

By Barasa, Margaret Nasambu; Ndambuki, Jacinta M. et al. | Journal of Pan African Studies, March 2016 | Go to article overview

Modality in Kenya's 2008 Post-Consultation Discourse


Barasa, Margaret Nasambu, Ndambuki, Jacinta M., Telewa, Vicky Khasandi, Journal of Pan African Studies


Introduction

Language has power to influence people at the ideological level. By observing the effects language can have on people, it is apparent that not all aspects of language have the same persuasive weight. It is against this assumption that this paper investigates how modality plays a role in ideologically manipulating hearers/readers. Specifically, the paper investigates the role modality plays in reflecting the ideological positions of Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga as coalition leaders in the 2008 post-consultation discourse. This is done by providing a critical approach to interpreting ideology in discourse through a systematic analysis of modality. The specific aim of this paper was to relate the linguistic feature of modality to that central aspect of social structures referred to as ideology. The study focused on two main modality systems (the epistemic and deontic) as playing a decisive role in indicating the type and degree of involvement a speaker has in the content of his/her message, and ultimately, an attitude/position towards the subject of his/her message (Palmer, 2001). This attitude/position is directly related to the notion of ideology in the light of a view of an existing relationship between modality and ideology in discourse. Therefore, the study was based on the framework that an analysis of modal expressions of Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga in the 2008 post-consultation discourse, can give us at least a reading of, if not access to the ideologies communicated in the texts.

Ideology and discourse intersects and interact in a complex manner. This study adopted Fowler's (1985) definition of ideology as "a system of beliefs which has come to be constructed as a way of comprehending the world." The implication is that ideology is both a social and a cognitive phenomenon, as well as highlighting the principal intermediary role that language plays. The social aspect of ideology corresponds to those shared values and beliefs which result from the individuals' interaction with society and its institutions (Fowler, 1985). In a similar way, language plays a central role in acting as a primary medium responsible for transmitting different ideologies in a social community (van Dijk, 1998). It is in this sense that ideology refers to socially and politically dominant set of values and beliefs which are constructed in and through language (Fairclough, 1989, van Dijk, 1998). Based on this ideological framework, this study analysed the multifunctional view of language where language is regarded as a tool of social interaction, as well as an instrument of control. In this light, language becomes a distinctive and central site of struggle since it can be used by powerful groups to re-enforce a dominant ideology (van Dijk, 1998).

According to Ravelli (2000), the attitudes and opinions of the writer are realized through modality. Modality is realized through modal auxiliaries such as can, should, must, may, and ought. There are five types of modality by which writers negotiate information (Halliday, 1994). These are as follows: Usuality e.g. Mary and John would visit regularly. Probability e.g. Kenya will doubtless redouble its effects to improve the economy. Obligation e.g. You must fight for our rights. Inclination e.g. I would have gone to the market had I been given a chance. Ability e.g. It can be done as suggested. It is also argued by Ravelli (2000) that the degree of strength of the opinions is evident from the modals used.

For example, 'must' and 'should' were considered high modality while 'may and' 'could' are considered low modality. In other words, Modals allow the writer to grade his/her opinion and to acknowledge the possibility of other voices and opinions. Epistemic modality would reflect, in various degrees; the speaker's certainty in the truth value of the proposition they make leading to, their various degrees of epistemic authority in presenting information as factual or as doubtful. …

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