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  • Modal adverbs and discourse: Two essays by Alessandro Capone
  • Gert van Ostaeyen
Modal adverbs and discourse: Two essays. By Alessandro Capone. (Progetti linguistici 14.) Pisa: Edizioni Ets, 2001. Pp. 181. ISBN 8846704568. €12.91.

In the first essay in this volume, ‘From modality to discourse’, Alessandro Capone deals with modal adverbs, that is, items such as obviously, certainly, and really. C focuses on their meanings, contexts of use, and functions. Modal adverbs express speaker commitment to the truth of a proposition, and it is argued that they have discourse functions as well. C uses the notion of conversational implicature to account for their discourse uses. In Chs. 1 to 6, C sets out to explain the theoretical framework he has adopted, which falls within the neo-Gricean tradition. H. Paul Grice’s cooperative principle and Stephen C. Levinson’s M-principle play a central role in C’s argumentation. If a speaker uses an unqualified utterance (an utterance without a modal expression), s/he is committed to its truth, since s/he is obeying the quality maxim (say something true). Modal adverbs express commitment as well, and, by using them, one is being more informative than is (usually) required. Hence, a speaker is understood to M-implicate that there are reasons for his or her deviant behavior. C argues that the M-implicature alerts the hearer to context-sensitive discourse functions (concession, contrast, argumentation, etc.). In Chs. 7 to 11, C applies the framework to a wide range of adverbs to support his claim. Ch. 12 offers some preliminary answers to residual problems. The discussion here centers on the functional differences between modal adverbs and their cognate adjectives—it is argued that these are related to information structure.

In the second essay, ‘A view of discourse’, C evaluates some of the achievements in conversation analysis. In Ch. 1, some preliminary notions are introduced: system constraints vs. ritual constraints, publicity, face, authorization, and topic ordering. In Ch. 2, which is concerned with turn-taking, C demonstrates the flexibility of interaction constraints by making reference to conversational stories. Ch. 3 deals with preferred and dispreferred replies. C claims that the notion of preference should be further elaborated. C goes on to discuss whether or not assertions ought to be included with adjacency-pair first parts (Ch. 4). In Ch. 5, C addresses functional approaches to turn-taking. Ch. 6 goes beyond the adjacency pair to discuss replies and responses. Chs. 7 [End Page 514] and 8 turn on issues of topic ordering: suspension of individual communicative needs in favor of collective interests, and fixed patterns of closings. Ch. 9 serves to illustrate the notion of communicative competence, which is defined as the internalization of rules governing conversation types, such as interviews, classroom interaction, and courtroom proceedings. In Ch. 10, C studies the meaning of the same expressions in different contexts. In Ch. 11, C concludes with a discussion of politeness.

C’s treatment of the modal adverbs, although written from a synchronic perspective, has points of contact with research on grammaticalization, as it stresses the importance of implicature as a possible mechanism of language change. C’s essay on conversation analysis provides the reader with a brief introduction to the field. Both essays place appropriate emphasis on the importance of context in linguistic analysis.

Gert van Ostaeyen
University of Antwerp


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