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  • Mood and modality 2nd edn. by F. R. Palmer
  • Gary H. Toops
Mood and modality. 2nd edn. By F. R. Palmer. (Cambridge textbooks in linguistics.) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001. Pp. xxii, 236. ISBN 0521800358. $23.

Palmer’s work is a discursive typology of ‘modal systems’ and the grammatical category of mood in a variety of European and non-European languages. The European group consists of such languages as Catalan, Danish, French, German, Greek (Classical and Modern), Italian, Latin, Norwegian, Polish, Russian, Spanish (including Argentine Spanish [116]), and Welsh, while the non-European group includes— but is in no way limited to—various Australian, Papuan, and Native American languages (respectively: Dyirbal, Ngiyambaa, Yidiny; Amele, Fasu, Muyuw; Caddo, Central Pomo, Hixkaryana, Kashaya).

As is often the case with wide-ranging typological surveys, the author does not have first-hand knowledge of most of the languages and relies largely on the descriptive statements of those who have authored grammars or grammatical sketches of the languages he has chosen to cite. At least with respect to the better codified and more commonly known European languages, P’s use of second-hand language samples periodically results in his misinterpreting the data or even mistranslating the examples. For the reader, this tends to weaken the reliability of the data P presents from other, less well-known languages. English-speaking readers who do not share P’s particular dialect of British English will likely take issue with some of P’s English data as well (e.g. P’s ascribing epistemic modality to the auxiliary verb will or its contraction ’ll in John’ll be in his office [now], apparently with a meaning of likelihood in the sense of American English John should be in his office [now] [14, 25, 28, 30, and passim]).

An isolated mistranslation of a noun or mislabeling of a part of speech might well be overlooked, but P repeats many of the same examples throughout his book, thereby compounding his original error. A case in point is P’s misconstrual of the German sentence Du magst hereinkommen ‘You may come in’ as the expression of deontic (cf. Du darfst hereinkommen), rather than epistemic, modality (71). Only after repeating the same infelicitous example (93) does P ultimately set the record straight by noting, incongruously, that ‘epistemic may’ is ‘translated by either können or mögen, and deontic may by either können or dürfen’ (101).

The most trenchant of the book’s eight chapters, and its greatest merit, is arguably the ‘Introduction’ (Ch. 1). There P delineates the various types of modality (propositional modality—epistemic and evidential, on the one hand; event modality—deontic and dynamic, on the other, with their respective subcategories) [End Page 816] and mood. P regards mood as a formal category confined basically to a realis/irrealis or indicative/subjunctive opposition. For P, the adjective ‘modal’ applies to modality (as in ‘modal systems’), not to mood; his discussion is therefore sometimes difficult to follow. Greater clarity might have been achieved by constructing an adjective ‘modalitative’ in reference to modality (by analogy to terms like qualitative [< quality] and quantitative [< quantity]); this would have allowed ‘modal’ to retain its more traditional reference to mood. Since P never addresses the question of how languages combine mood with marked modality (e.g. how languages like Bulgarian or German convey real or unreal conditions [mood] in reported speech [evidential modality]), his chosen terminology is perhaps not as problematic as it might be otherwise.

The book’s final chapter (Ch. 8, ‘Past tense as modal’) is perhaps the most speculative and least persuasive. Because the Russian conditional/subjunctive is formed with the modal particle by and the historical l-participle (which formally resembles the Modern Russian past tense), P mistakes this inherently tenseless mood for ‘the use of past tense in the Russian subjunctive’ (221). P likewise maintains that the English modal auxiliaries could, might, should, and would are strictly past-tense forms, rather than syncretic past and conditional forms, as the cognate pairs of modal auxiliaries in German suggest (cf. konnte/könnte, mochte/möchte, sollte/sollte, wollte/wollte, where the first member is preterite indicative, and the...


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