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  1. #1
    italy74 is offline Newbie
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    Default Mood and modality

    Good morning everyone.
    A friend of mine (Katrin) is preparing a thesis in Germany about Modality in English language. What she finds quite difficult to distinguish is a proper definition of modality vs the definition of mood. I offered to help her and firstly I asked another friend (Chiara) living and studying between Oxford and Reading but she usually works on literary critique so she couldn't help me. I confess I'm tempted to try the forum "Ask a teacher" but being this one a linguistic forum, I'll try here first.

    I have the possibility to quote part of Katrin's mail (in fact she has already written and prepared something) but I know that sometimes it can be considered like a too long quote, so, again, even if overall topic is modality, she needs a definition of mood and she has to prepare a draft before Jan. 5th. It's not necessary anything too long since she should then deepen what you wrote and simply she hasn't enough time to do that.

    Can you provide me part of this difficult solution or suggest where I could find something useful? Many thanks in advance.

  2. #2
    Dr. Jamshid Ibrahim is offline Senior Member
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    Default Re: Mood and modality

    Mood and modality are sometimes used interchangeably. Both of them have a present or a future meaning even if the verb form is past. The past has no mood because it is over but the present tense (main verbs) allows more than one mood depending upon language, often three:
    1. The indicative (real)
    2. The subjunctive (irreal)
    3. The imperative (order)

    Modality is often expressed by so called modal verbs like must, can.. to express possibility and necessity. May or might are sometimes used as a hedge.This is because when people are involved in conversation they don't only give information (quantity) but also need to assess, evaluate, give the type of knowledge ........of what they impart (quality).
    Last edited by Dr. Jamshid Ibrahim; 30-Dec-2008 at 13:36.

  3. #3
    Clark is offline Key Member
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    Default Re: Mood and modality

    It's hard to find a more difficult problem in grammar. Both moods and modal verbs show the relation between the action expressed by the predicate verb and reality. This relation is established by the speaker. Formally, modal verbs can be regarded as lexical means and moods - as grammatical ones. So modals express more specific, differential meanings, while moods give more general characteristics of actions. Probably, this doesn't help much. You need a person who has dealt with this problem at a serious level.

  4. #4
    italy74 is offline Newbie
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    Default Re: Mood and modality

    Thanks.
    I know this is a very difficult topic and I'd like to share with you more of what my friend already wrote if this wouldn't be considered a too long quotation.
    However, Mr. Clark, does this mean that I should have to ask in the "Ask a teacher" forum? or where otherwise?

    Thanks again and have a happy new 2009!

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Mood and modality

    Hi!

    As I've heard the terms used:

    Modality is the semantic concept of "illocutionary force", i.e. what you want your words to do. Mood is the syntactic-morphological expression of modality, although modality can be expressed otherwise. Different linguistic theories draw borders differently, as to what counts for a modal form (mood).

    An analogy:

    Modaltiy:Mood = Time:Tense

    For example, you can use present tense to refer to future time. ("We leave at five.")

    Similarly, you can express interrogative or imperative modality through indicative mood ("I'd like to know what you are doing here." "I want you to come here right now!")

    There's a problem with that sort of broad definition of modality, though: it spills over from grammar into pragmatics. That's what makes definitions so hard and what causes so much confusion.

    Mood, in English, refers mostly to the indicative, interrogative, imperative and the disappearing subjunctive.

    Modality, includes mood as well as modal auxiliaries, and perhaps other constructions.

    I hope I'm not adding more confusion than I solve, and that I have given some pointers for further research.

  6. #6
    Clark is offline Key Member
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    Default Re: Mood and modality

    Quote Originally Posted by italy74 View Post
    Thanks.
    I know this is a very difficult topic and I'd like to share with you more of what my friend already wrote if this wouldn't be considered a too long quotation.
    However, Mr. Clark, does this mean that I should have to ask in the "Ask a teacher" forum? or where otherwise?

    Thanks again and have a happy new 2009!
    I think you are on the right forum. No need to move the question to the 'Ask a teacher' forum, though there's more traffic there. I'd recommend you (or your friend) to study the subject yourself first and then suggest some particular problems for discussion. For example, what mood forms and modal verbs express the idea of the desirability of an action? What are their semantic specifics? etc. Because when you present a problem in a most general way, it's hard for others to see how to approach it unless one already has experience in studying that problem and knows how to best structure a thesis and what issues should be focused on.

    A Happy New Year!

  7. #7
    orangutan is offline Member
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    Default Re: Mood and modality

    A difficult question, and I appreciate the comments that have been made. I would like to throw in my own two euro-cents' worth, if I may.

    I think I am right, first, in saying that they both come from the same root (Latin modus, roughly "mode") - which is not a terribly helpful word at that. But it and its offshoots have acquired meaning in the context of various approaches to language (traditional grammar, various semiotic theories, modern generative grammar etc.). So it makes sense to ask what they mean relative to one or more of these contexts.

    I think the following answer would be consistent with much of the usage in traditional (Western) grammar and many modern semantic approaches (I don't know anything about semiotics):

    "Modality" relates to the concepts of modal logic (necessity, possibility etc). It modifies the way in which the truth of a sentence is to be evaluated, typically by taking into account possible situations other than the actual present one. This is probably too broad for "modality" as traditionally used in grammar, as it could also apply to tense. But I would suggest it as a starting point. Typically in English modality is done by auxiliary verbs, though in other languages it can be done by grammatical affixes.

    "Mood" I agree with previous posts has to do with the grammatical marking of illocutionary force, the various things that one can do with propositions besides asserting them. (As has been pointed out, it is important to distinguish between grammatical mood and the actual illocutionary force of the utterance, which may differ from that "advertised" by its grammatical form). So we have indicative, interrogative etc, relating to illocutionary notions like asserting, questioning, hypothesizing or directing. Of course the inventory of grammatical moods varies according to language, whereas the range of illocutionary forces is presumably (?) universal.

    Well it's getting late and the pubs are open on this fine Spring evening, so I will break off here. Any thoughts would be welcome.

  8. #8
    svartnik is offline Banned
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    Default Re: Mood and modality

    As I perceive the difference, mood has more to do with verb forms by which we can express emotions, facts, possibilities, and I do not know what else - the so called illocutionary forces. Expressing these forces we conjugate the verb so it has the power to convey what we want it to in a given syntactic environment.

    I liked Dawnstorms analogy between time:tense and modality:mood

    You are to be here tomorrow.

    are to be -->

    time: future
    tense:present

    We can refer to future time by the use of present tense.

    mood:indicative
    modality: order

    We can use the indicative mood to express command. We do not always need the imperative mood for that.

    What does modal logic mean? What does it deal with? Semantics of modal verbs in different environments?

    I wish I could ask more about this topic. To be able to ask questions is half the battle won in the act of acquiring knowledge. I think I have not yet half-won the battle against modality.
    Last edited by svartnik; 21-Jul-2009 at 14:13.

  9. #9
    orangutan is offline Member
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    Default Re: Mood and modality

    Sorry for the delay in getting back to this, but I was travelling.

    Quote Originally Posted by svartnik View Post
    What does modal logic mean? What does it deal with? Semantics of modal verbs in different environments?

    I wish I could ask more about this topic. To be able to ask questions is half the battle won in the act of acquiring knowledge. I think I have not yet half-won the battle against modality.
    The core notions of modal logic are necessity and possibility. Originally this meant mainly logical necessity and logical possibility. However if you think about English words like "must" and "can", the notions of necessity and probability they convey are quite varied - logical necessity, moral necessity (obligation), states of knowledge or belief etc. Accordingly, there are varieties of modal logic which try to capture the logical behaviour of these notions. (For example if a proposition p is logically necessary then it is true, whereas if it is morally obligatory it is unfortunately not necessarily true. Similarly if I know something then it is true, but if I believe something it doesn't have to be true.)

    Semantically, these systems don't simply deal with the truth or falsity of sentences in the actual world, but with their truth or falsity in relation to different situations or belief states (they involve what is often called a "possible worlds semantics"). Or at least, that way of treating them has become fairly standard over the last fifty years or so.

    It is also possible to treat tense in a similar way ("true at a given time" is similar to "true in a given situation"), so there are also "temporal logics" which follow the same lines as modal logic. (Not everybody agrees that this is the best way to treat the semantics of tense, but the point is that it is a possible way.)

    There is a good article in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
    Last edited by orangutan; 24-Jul-2009 at 15:35. Reason: problems with link

  10. #10
    Raymott's Avatar
    Raymott is offline VIP Member
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    Default Re: Mood and modality

    Quote Originally Posted by svartnik View Post
    What does modal logic mean? What does it deal with? Semantics of modal verbs in different environments?
    As orangutan suggests, modal logic doesn't deal with the logic of modal verbs at all. It's a branch of philosophical logic rather than human-language grammar.
    It's also a field of interest in computing, especially artificial intelligence. Computers think in binary True/False terms. Applying modal logic (and other forms of logic) to computers might enable them to think in terms of True / False / Maybe / Probably, etc.

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