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Modal verbs and politeness strategies in political discourse

Boicu, Ruxandra (2007): Modal verbs and politeness strategies in political discourse. Published in: Analele Universităţii din Bucureşti (Limbi şi literaturi străine) , Vol. LVII, No. 1/2008 (2008): pp. 15-28.

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This research consists in the analysis of one of Ashley Mote’s political speeches, from the point of view of the speaker’s use of the modal verbs that contribute to the mitigation or the aggravation of the illocutionary forces released by the speech acts they belong to. The analysis focuses on the two main semantic values of modal verbs in English, the epistemic and the deontic. Mote’s discursive strategies are mainly underlain by directive speech acts, due to their ”competitive” character (Leech 1983), while ”convivial” acts (commissive and expressive) are not manifest in his speech. According to Searle, commissive acts can be successful only if the speaker meets the preliminary condition of credibility. The politician’s independent status does not enable him to perform successful commissive acts. In exchange, in his speech all the directive acts that contain modal verbs are potential face-threatening acts. By their intrinsic meaning, modal verbs attenuate the illocutionary force of the directive speech acts in both ways. Due to context, their pragmatic meaning either mitigates this force through positive or negative politeness (Brown and Levinson 1987) or aggravates it using the same resources. The same speech act may mitigate and so protect Mote’s political allies faces, while aggravating and so damaging his political opponents’ faces. There is an interesting control of the modals meaning gradation, in the analyzed text.

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