- Modality in ESL Textbooks: Insights from a Contrastive Corpus-Based Analysis
- The Canadian Modern Language Review / La revue canadienne des langues vivantes
- University of Toronto Press
- Advance Online
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This study investigates modality in textbooks designed for learners of English by exploring the frequency and distribution of modal verbs in two corpora – one of authentic native-speaker language and a pedagogical one used by francophone learners of English in Quebec – with a view to identifying areas where added support for learning may be beneficial. The analysis is divided into two parts: the first investigates distributional frequencies of nine central modals across the two corpora; the second explores and compares the semantics of four selected modal auxiliaries (must, can, may, and should) in the two corpora. If it is assumed that textbooks should be an accurate reflection of authentic native speakers’ language use, then support for the acquisition of modality in the textbooks proved to be less than ideal. Although there is a reasonably good coverage of modals in the textbooks in terms of frequency, the semantic analysis reveals discrepancies between the native corpus and the textbooks. Learners are exposed to a limited range of meanings that do not fully reflect authentic use. Findings are also discussed from an alternate perspective whereby strong representations of potentially difficult to acquire uses of modals in the textbooks can be seen as beneficial for acquisition.