modality, attitude: different names for different categories (Heliana Mello - UFMG, CNPq,
The objective of this talk is to discuss
the labels illocution (or illocutionary act), modality and attitude and their
various applications within the Linguistics literature, with special attention
to the Pragmatics/Prosody interface which is the focus of this workshop. These
three labels may refer to very different constructs depending on the author who
uses or defines them and on the subdisciplinary field in which they are
employed. They might, however, be found to correspond to the same or to
overlapping concepts, and this is very frequently the case within the prosodic
studies literature. This creates a lack of precision and clarity which would be
desirable in technical terminology, and what is even more problematic, a
confusion and imprecision of the very object of study. Thus, in this talk, we
aim at proposing specific scopes and characterizations for each of the labels
and to start discussing possible criteria that would facilitate the
identification of features that might lead to a repertoire of characterizations
for each of the concepts. In order to do so, we will first present some of the
definitions and characterizations for illocution, modality and attitude found
in the relevant literature and later will discuss ways to address the
distinction for these three conceptual categories.
The label illocution, also referred to as
illocutionary act can be addressed among other possibilities as:
- an act (1) for the performance of which
one must make it clear to some other person that the act is performed (Austin
speaks of the 'securing of uptake'), and (2) the performance of which involves
the production of what Austin calls 'conventional consequences' as, e.g.,
rights, commitments, or obligations (Austin
attempt to communicate in the expressing of an attitude (BACH & HARNISH,
- the act of meaning something (SCHIFFER,
John Searle (1969) claims the illocutionary
act to be “the minimal complete unit of human linguistic communication.
Whenever we talk or write to each other, we are performing illocutionary acts”. Searle
posits five illocutionary points: 1) Assertives: statements that may be judged
true or false because they purport to describe a state of affairs in the world;
2) Directives: statements that attempt to make the auditor´s actions fit the
propositional content; 3) Commissives: statements which commit the speaker to a
course of action as described by the propositional content; 4) Expressives:
statements that express the “sincerity condition of the speech act”; and 5)
Declaratives: statements that attempt to change the world by “representing it
as having been changed”. Searle focuses primarily on the idea of a performative
predicate which defines the act in his logic-lexicalizing approach, even when
has to be inferred and is not explicitly present in the act. On the other hand,
Searle overlaps modality and illocution when he posits that to assert X and to assert I think that X stand for different acts. Additionally Searle admits
indirect acts in his proposal.
- Cresti (2001), pairing with Austin’s ideas, asserts
that the illocution co-occurs with the locutory act and functions as the
affective engine of the linguistic act. It is related to the interpersonal
dynamics of rapport, therefore the attitude towards the interloctutor – the Modus towards the Partner. Cresti (2000)
proposes five illocutive classes: refusal, assertion, direction, expression and
rite; these are subdivided into several possible subclasses. She individuates
each act type based mostly, but not only, on prosodic criteria. Prosody would
be the necessary (and at times sufficient) criterium to define an illocutionary
act. Cresti, differently from Searle, separates illocution and modality.
- The concept of illocution and the
discussion about illocutionary force at times conflates with that of mood. Such
is the case in Greene (2009) who says that “Mood together with content
underdetermine force. On the other hand it is a plausible hypothesis that
grammatical mood is one of the devices we use, together with contextual clues,
intonation and so on to indicate the force with which we are expressing a
The label modality would encompass the
-‘the essence of "modality"
consists in the relativization of the validity of sentence meanings to a set of
possible worlds’ (Keifer 1994:
2515a); from a speaker’s-evaluation approach, modality is ‘the speaker’s
cognitive, emotive, or volitive attitude toward a state of affairs’ (Keifer 1994: 2516a), his ‘commitment or
detachment’ , his ‘envisaging several possible courses of events’ or his
‘considering of things being otherwise’ (Keifer
- For Ruthrof (1991) modality is ‘the
structurable field of the manners of speaking underlying all utterances’ (this
he also calls covert
or inferential modality).
- For Bybee & Fleischman (1995: 2),
'Modality… is the semantic domain pertaining to elements of meaning that
languages express. It covers a broad range of semantic nuances - jussive,
desiderative, intentive, hypothetical, potential, obligative, dubitative,
hortatory, exclamative, etc. - whose common denominator is the addition of a
supplement or overlay of meaning to the most neutral semantic value of the
proposition of an utterance, namely factual and declarative'.
- For Schneider (1999: 13) and Bybee
(1985), modality consists of (i) speech acts (orders and wishes, i.e. deontic
modality), and (ii) attitudes to truth-content of the sentence (i.e. epistemic
- Karkkainem (1987) claims that modality
and illocutionary force are very similar since both express the speaker’s
attitude or opinion, therefore carrying the communicative purpose in the
accomplishment of a speech act.
- For Cresti, following Bally, modality
expresses the speaker’s attitude (modus)
towards the content of an utterance, i.e., the referential or cognitive content
(dictum). The major modal categories
would be alethic, epistemic and deontic.
There are several proposed modal
typologies which vary from the tripartite option followed by Cresti to Mindt’s
17 modal meanings: (i) possibility/high probability, (ii) certainty/prediction,
(iii) ability, (iv) hypothetical event/result, (v) habit, (vi) inference/deduction,
(vii) obligation, (viii) advisability/desirability, (ix) volition/intention,
(x) intention, (xi) politeness/downtoning, (xii) consent, (xiii) state in the
past, (xiv) permission, (xv) courage, (xvi) regulation/prescription, (xvii)
disrespect/insolence (Mindt 1995: 45).
The label attitude:
- According to Local (2005) “Attitude is widely
acknowledged as making an important contribution to the meanings which can be
attributed to utterances. Attitude is used as a cover term for constructs which have
been referred to elsewhere as ``attitude'', ``emotion'', ``affect'' and
``stance''.” Local mentions that “in intonation studies there is
a continuing tradition of employing lay attitudinal categories (e.g.
``challenging'', ``surprised'', ``sad'', ``involved'', ``uncertain'') in trying
to account for the distribution and meaning of intonation contours (Cruttenden, 1997; Schubiger, 1958; Pierrehumbert and Hirschberg, 1990; Ladd, 1986).” He
goes on to say that “within pragmatics, too, claims about particular pragmatic
practices and stylistic effects (e.g. epistemic markers, facticity, irony,
politeness, reported speech, sarcasm) and the intended force of utterances are
routinely linked to speaker attitude (Mey 1993; Sperber and Wilson 1986; Leech 1983; Blakemore 1992).”
- Attitude is related to a speaker’s
expression of social affects, voluntarily controlled by the speaker (MORAES,
2010). According to Moraes (2010) there are attitudes that affect the
propositional content of an utterance (irony,
incredulity, obviousness, surprise, etc) and others that are connected to the social
relationship established between interactants in a communication event
(politeness, arrogance, authority, irritation, etc).
- Attitude is at times conflated with
emotion (MOZZICONACCI, 2001) and therefore might be categorized as such into 48
different types according to the HUMAINE Emotion Annotation and Representation
Language, which cover politeness, anger, courage, pride, serenity, empathy,
happiness, among many others. In other views, attitude would refer to
categories such as declarative, question, exclamation, incredulous question,
suspicious irony and obviousness, therefore lumping illocutionary types with
emotional types (BAILLY & HOLM, 2002). In a crosslinguistic experimental
setting, Shochi, Albergé & Rilliard (2006) study misperception of attitudes
across Japanese and French. The authors studied 12 attitudes and, similarly to
the assertions made above, there is the grouping together of categories that
could easily be claimed to be related to either modality or illocution by other
authors. Their list is: doubt-incredulity, evidence, exclamation of surprise,
authority, irritation, arrogance-impoliteness, sincerity-politeness,
simple-politeness, declaration and interrogation.
As pointed out in this abstract, the
definitions for illocution, modality and attitude vary and at times mix. In
order to try to separate the domains of application of each of these concepts,
it is proposed that they be established as stances of different phenomena which
apply at different levels of the communicative act, and can, in principle be
compositional. This would need to be tested experimentally in order to be
checked. Following and expanding Cresti (2001)
we will propose a rationale that allocates modality to a semantic level in
which the speaker’s stance towards her locutory expression is manifested;
similarly illocution belongs to a pragmatic level in which the speaker’s stance
towards her interlocutor is manifested, and finally attitude will be allocated
to a socio-interactional conventionalized level. We believe that we must separate
inferential clues that integrate the communicative activity – therefore, non
linguistics factors, from the linguistic phenomena under study in order to
achieve a more coherent description of the issues at hand.
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