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Joe Fagan (Aston University)

Analysing Modality in Learner Writing


Learners of English typically find expressing modality in written and spoken discourse extremely difficult. According to a number of grammarians with much experience in writing on the subject, this is to be expected, as modality is an extremely difficult concept to describe (Ross, 1969; Huddleston, 1974, 1976). This paper will analyse how modality is expressed in a corpus of written texts of advanced Spanish speaking learners, by considering the frequency and use of the nine central modal verbs (as described by Biber et al, 1999) and modal adjuncts (as described by Halliday, 1985), and their comparison with that of the British National Corpus. By combining the results with a description of typical course materials used on language courses in Madrid with a brief analysis of Cambridge exams results (writing), the speaker will argue that the differences result as much through lack of opportunity to use the target language as through complexity of use of the lexical items.

Biber D. et al. 1999. Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English. Harlow: Longman
Halliday M A K. 1985. An Introduction to Functional Grammar. London: Arnold Publishing.
Huddleston R. 1974. ‘Further remarks on the analysis of auxiliaries as main verbs’. Foundations of Language 6, 322-61. 1976.
Huddleston R. 1976. ‘Some theoretical issues in the description of the English verb’. Lingua, 40, 331-83
Ross J.R. 1969. “Auxiliaries as main verbs’, in Todd, W. (ed) Studies in philosophical linguistics. Evanston, III. Great Expectations Press(1970) ‘On declarative sentences’, in Jacobs and Rosenbaum (1970), 222-227.

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