Edited by Karin Aijmer
[Benjamins Current Topics 30] 2011
► pp. 23–36
The intersubjective function of modal adverbs
A contrastive English-French study of adverbs in journalistic discourse
This paper presents a contrastive study of modal adverbs in English and French, with a focus on a few pairs such as évidemment vs. ‘obviously’, apparemment vs. ‘apparently’. The relation between inference and epistemic modality is discussed both semantically and syntactically. Modal adverbs license double modality in French, in contrast to their English counterparts. This different syntactic behaviour confirms that the distinction that is generally made between two modal functions — the identificative one and the restrictive one — is relevant to French modal adverbs, but not to English modal adverbs. However, this semantic difference needs to be revisited and backed up pragmatically. It is argued that the identificative function of modal adverbs should be redefined in terms of intersubjectivity. While ‘apparently’ and ‘obviously’ mark the speaker’s identification with the addressee’s point of view, apparemment and évidemment are shown to be able to express the speaker’s evaluation whatever the speaker and addressee’s common knowledge might be. This pragmatic difference in turn provides an explanation for the different constraints on the use of modal adverbs in English and French.