I, Nguyen Minh Hue, hereby claim the originality of my study. Unless otherwise indicated, this is my own piece of academic accomplishment.
I am sincerely grateful to Assoc. Prof. Dr. Vo Dai Quang, my supervisor, for his wisdom, critical comments and precious advice spared for me. Without his guidance, encouragement and critical comments the work would have never been completed.
I owe a debt of gratitude to all my lecturers at the University of Languages and International Studies - Vietnam National University, Hanoi, for their enthusiastic teaching and tremendous knowledge that have directly or indirectly enlightened my research paper.
I would like to express my gratitude to all of my colleagues at the ESP Department, ULIS -VNU, Hanoi for their constant encouragement and the favourable conditions spared for my study.
Finally, my warmest thanks go to my parents, my husband for their love, support and share of housework and childcare. Without their help this thesis could not have gained the current status.
Hanoi, December - 2006
Nguyen Minh Hue
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Certificate of originality i
TABLE OF CONTENTS iii
Part A. Introduction 1
1. Rationale of the study 1
2. Aims of the study 3
3. Scope of the study 4
4. Methodology 4
5. Design of the study 5
Part B: Development 6
Chapter 1: Theoretical background 6
Chapter 2: Investigation 17
Chapter 3: Implications 37
Part C: Conclusion 42
Sources of example 46
1. Charlotte Bronte. Jane Eyre. Vol 1. (Translated by NguyÔn Anh Kim). 1996. Vietnam: Literature Publishing House. 46
2. Charlotte Bronte. Jane Eyre. Vol 2. (Translated by NguyÔn Anh Kim). 1996. Vietnam: Literature Publishing House. 46
In everyday communication, both the speaker and writer do not simply describe events, processes or states of affairs. By means of language, they also wish to express their emotions and attitudes; or to influence in some way the addressee’s beliefs, behaviours. Usually, the speaker not only says something true, something that will definitely happen or happened, but also says something he/ she does not know for sure.
1. Tom is happy.
2. Tom seems (to be) happy.
3. I think Tom is happy.
4. Perhaps Tom is happy.
While statement (1) expresses the speaker’s assertion of a fact, statements (2), (3) and (4) show his indefinite commitment to the proposition “Tom is happy”. The area of semantics that concerns this expressive and social information of statements is modality.
In comparison with absolute commitments where the speaker definitely asserts, relative commitments play a very important role in communication. In fact, using too many absolute commitments probably lessens communicative effects because the speaker will be seen as a rude or imposing person, disobeying politeness strategies. That’s why the speakers often hedge, using modalized phrases such as I think (that), I suppose (that) first to express their subjective attitudes and second to show their politeness to listeners.
The researches in English focus on analyzing both the most common form and content of modality. As a result, a full and specific description of syntactic and semantic features of English modal verbs can, may, must and the equivalent expressions in Vietnamese has not been given yet. Thus, a research on the meanings expressed by the modal verbs can, may, must in English in contrastive analysis with Vietnamese seems to be necessary.
Though many pages, chapters, books have been written about the English modal system, it still remains a complicated and troublesome area of language for linguists and learners of English. The problem can be traced to the polysemy/ ambiguity of modal meanings. Semantically, a modal can convey either deontic or epistemic modality. In the sociophysical (deontic) world, the must in “John must go to all the department parties” is taken as indicating an obligation imposed upon the person realized by the subject of the sentence by the speaker (or by some other agents). In the epistemic world, the must in the same sentence could be read as a logical necessity according to the reasoning “I must conclude that it is John’s habit to go to all department parties (because I see his name on the sign-up sheet every time, and he’s always out on those nights)”. In addition, there is considerable overlap between modals. It is hard to discern any semantic difference among them since modals are almost sustitutable in most contexts, e.g. can and may in “You can/ may leave”. Pragmatically, we can talk about modal meanings in terms of such logical notions as “permission” and “necessity”, but this done, we still have to consider ways in which these notions become remoulded by the psychological pressures of everyday communication between human beings: factors such as condescension, politeness, tact and irony.
The learning of meanings expressed by modals and how to use them correctly has not been, then, an easy task for learners of English. Learners are often confused in choosing the appropriate modal to make themselves understood. This problem is especially more embarrassing when they encounter different modals conveying similar meanings. Also, they can produce grammatically correct utterances, but do not understand properly the social and cultural information each modal meaning conveys. Furthermore, due to the structuralist approach to grammar teaching, learners can memorize modals with their meanings given, but do not know how to use them to improve their communicative competence, say, to mitigate directness, to express politeness, to make assertions in social interaction.
Despite the fact that earlier researches on modality contribute greatly to helping acquire English modality usage, it is still considered one of the most difficult aspects of learning English. The topic of this study was prompted at first by my guide to my students in improving reading skill and in doing some English-Vietnamese translation. I found that students still have many problems in understanding the texts, and especially in interpreting the writer’s opinion and attitude expressed by such typical modals as can, may, must. With all these reasons, I made up my mind to choose and to go further into the topic: A contrastive analysis of the meanings expressed via the modal verbs can, may, must in English and the equivalent expressions in Vietnamese.