1. Introduction

The aim of this paper is to investigate to what extent the grammaticalization process that involves modal verbs in Brazilian Portuguese may be explained in terms of the layered approach to grammatical categories in Functional Discourse Grammar (FDG, Hengeveld & Mackenzie 2008). In this approach grammatical elements are defined in terms of their semantic scope, and grammaticalization is seen as a process in which linguistic elements widen their scope (Hengeveld 2011). In the case of modal verbs this would mean that modal elements with lower scope develop into modal elements with wider scope. This diachronic prediction has synchronic consequences: if a modal verb has multiple modal meanings, these meanings should be of contiguous scope types in their synchronic distribution. In order to test these predictions, the distribution of modal verbs in Brazilian Portuguese across various modal meanings is studied.

The organization of this paper is as follows. Section 2 provides some basic background information on FDG and its treatment of modality. Section 3 elaborates the predictions that follow from the FDG approach. Section 4 presents the modal verbs included in the study and demonstrates their auxiliary nature. Section 5 then tests the predictions using examples taken from the internet. In section 6 we discuss the results, and in section 7 we present our conclusions.

2. Modality in FDG

2.1. Scope1

Modality, and TMAE (Tense, Mood, Aspect, Evidentiality) categories in general, are defined here using the concept of scope as applied in FDG. The classification we use is based on Hengeveld & Mackenzie (2008), itself based on Hengeveld (2004), and includes the modifications proposed in Hengeveld (2011) and Hengeveld & Hattnher (2015). Table 1 summarizes this classification.

propositional content episode state-of-affairs situational concept

Aspect event quantification phasal aspect (im)perfectivity
Tense absolute tense relative tense
Evidentiality inference deduction event perception
Mood subjective epistemic modality objective epistemic modality event-oriented modality participant-oriented modality

Table 1

TMAE categories in Functional Discourse Grammar.

Scope relations are defined in Table 1 in terms of four different semantic layers. Working inside out, the situational concept (f) is the set of properties of a possible state-of-affairs; a state-of-affairs (e) is the situated real or hypothesized situation the speaker has in mind; the episode (ep) is a thematically coherent combination of states-of-affairs that are characterized by unity or continuity of time, location, and participants; the proposition (p) is the mental construct entertained about a state-of-affairs.

Tense, mood, aspect, and evidentiality are not unified categories in their application to these layers of semantic organization, but fall into different subcategories according to their scope. Aspect is subdivided into two categories, separating quantitative aspectual distinctions (such as habitual and distributive), which quantify over states-of-affairs as a whole, from qualitative aspectual distinctions (such as imperfective and resultative), which affect the internal temporal organization of a state-of-affairs. Tense is subdivided into absolute tense distinctions (such as past and future), which locate (a series of) states-of-affairs in time with respect to the moment of speaking, and relative tense distinctions (such as anterior and posterior), which locate a single state-of-affairs in time relative to another one. Evidentiality splits up in inference distinctions (such as supposition), which indicate how the propositional content follows from the speaker’s existing knowledge, deduction distinctions (such as deduction on the basis of visual evidence), which indicate how an episode is deduced from observable facts, and event perception distinctions (such as witnessed and non-witnessed), which concern the direct perception of a state-of-affairs by the speaker. The widest range of subcategories is found in the area of Mood, where we find subjective epistemic modal distinctions (such as dubitative modality), which indicate the speaker’s commitment with respect to the true value of a propositional content; objective epistemic modal distinctions (such as alethic possibility), which indicate the outcome of the objective evaluation of the reality value of an episode; event-oriented modal distinctions (such as moral obligation), which characterize a state-of-affairs in terms of its desirability or feasibility; and participant-oriented modality distinctions (such as ability), which express a relation between a participant in a state-of-affairs and the realization of that state-of-affairs. The modal distinctions mentioned here are further elaborated in the next section, using examples from Brazilian Portuguese, a language in which modality is predominantly expressed by modal verbs (poder ‘may/can’, dever ‘should/must/be likely to’, ter de/ter que ‘have to’, and saber ‘know how to’) and by modal adverbs (realmente ‘really’, talvez ‘maybe’, provavelmente ‘probably’, etc.).

2.2. Modality

2.2.1. Participant-oriented modality

Participant-oriented modality in general describes a relation between a participant in a state-of-affairs and the potential realization of that state-of-affairs. There are two subtypes:

participant-oriented facultative modality describes the ability of a participant to engage in the state-of-affairs type designated by the predicate and its arguments. In Brazilian Portuguese a distinction is made between intrinsic ability (poder ‘be able to, can’), like in (1) and acquired ability (saber ‘know how to’), like in (2):

(1) Adriano não pode mais jogar futebol por falta de condicionamento técnico e físico.2
‘Adriano cannot play soccer anymore due to lack of technical and physical condition.’
(2) Axl Rose sabe como fazer um bom show.3
‘Axl Rose knows how to create a nice show.’

participant-oriented deontic modality describes a participant’s being under the obligation or having permission to engage in the SoA type designated by the predicate, as illustrated in (3) and (4):

(3) Eu tenho que trabalhar o dia todo.4
‘I have to work the whole day.’
(4) Putin diz que Snowden pode ficar na Rússia se interromper revelações.5
‘Putin says that Snowden may stay in Russia if he stops the disclosures.’

2.2.2. Event-oriented modality

Event-oriented modalities characterize a state-of-affairs in terms of its feasibility or desirability. There are two subtypes again:

event oriented facultative modality characterizes a state-of-affairs in terms of the physical or circumstantial enabling conditions on its occurrence. This type is exemplified in (5) and (6):

(5) A mensagem não pôde ser enviada.6
‘The message could not be sent.’
(6) Apesar de não ser 100% eficaz, a imunização pode salvar milhares de pessoas, principalmente em países subdesenvolvidos.7
‘Although not 100% effective, immunization can save thousands of people, mainly in developing countries.’

In this type of modality the possibility of occurrence of an event does not depend on the intrinsic capacities of the participant, but it arises from the circumstances in which the event occurs.

event oriented deontic modality characterizes a states-of-affairs in terms of what is generally desirable or undesirable, as shown in (7) and (8):

(7) Após a remoção da cápsula, deve-se limpar vigorosamente o gargalo, principalmente se a cápsula removida for de chumbo que, como já foi dito, é um material tóxico ao organismo.8
‘After removing the cap, one must vigorously clean the bottleneck, specially if the removed cap is made of lead which, as was already said, is a toxic substance.’
(8) Deve se contar ou não ao paciente sobre provável diagnóstico de Alzheimer?9
‘Should one or shouldn’t one tell a patient about a probable diagnosis of Alzheimer?’

The obligations expressed by means of event-oriented deontic modality do not rest upon a particular participant, but represent general rules of conduct. This sense of general applicability can most clearly be identified in impersonal expressions as illustrated in (7) and (8).

2.2.3. Episode-oriented modality

Hengeveld (2011) distinguishes a modality type at the level of the episode that in Hengeveld & Mackenzie (2008) was considered a subtype of event-oriented modality. According to Hengeveld (2011) objective epistemic modality characterizes episodes in terms of the (im)possibility of their occurrence in view of what is known about the world.

Taking into account that absolute tense is an operator of the layer of the episode, while relative tense is an operator at the state-of-affairs, this position can be defended by considering the interaction between tense and modality. Consider example (9):

(9) Quanto ao jogador Juan Pablo Pino,com certeza deverá brilhar na próxima temporada.10
‘With respect to the player Juan Pablo Pino, he is certainly likely to be a star during the next season.’

Note that the entire stretch brilhar na próxima temporada ‘to be a star during the next season’ in (9), including the absolute temporal modifier na próxima temporada ‘during the next season’, falls under the scope of the objective epistemic modal verb dever ‘be likely to’. The temporal modifier na próxima temporada ‘during the next season’ thus does not situate the likelihood expressed by dever in time, but rather locates the period in which the player will be a star in the next season after the statement is being made in the future. The likelihood of this event to happen already exists at the moment of speaking.

The episode in (9) consists of just one event, but another state-of-affairs may be added to such an episode. Consider example (10), in which the two states-of-affairs show unity of absolute time, place, and participants, as is typical of episodes:

(10) Para os cargos que tiveram poucos aprovados não sei o que eles vão fazer, mas provavelmente eles devem realizar outro concurso antes da páscoa e contratar novos professores depois das férias de inverno no próximo ano.
‘For those positions for which very few people were approved, I don’t know what they’ll do, but probably they are likely to prepare another test before Easter and hire new teachers after the winter holiday next year.’

Note that each of the states-of-affairs within the episode in (10) has its own relative tense modifier (antes de páscoa ‘before Easter’ and depois das férias de inverno ‘after the winter holiday’), but both of them are under the scope of the episodical absolute temporal modifier no próximo ano ‘next year’.

2.2.4. Proposition-oriented modality

Proposition-oriented modality expresses the speaker’s commitment with respect to the truth value of a propositional content. The relevant subtype here is subjective epistemic modality, which is concerned with the degree and type of the Speaker’s commitment with respect to the propositional content: it may be presented as true, doubtful or hypothetical. This modality type is expressed in Brazilian Portuguese through the modal adverbs, as illustrated in (11) and (12):

(11) A habilidade de se expressar é, provavelmente, a mais importante de todas as que uma pessoa pode possuir.11
‘The ability to express oneself is probably the most important of all abilities a person may have.’
(12) Fernanda Rodrigues possivelmente será madrinha do bebê de Sandy.12
‘Fernanda Rodrigues will possibly be Sandy’s godmother.’

Note that this type of modality takes objective epistemic modality within its scope, as illustrated in examples (9) and (10), in which the modal dever is within the scope of the modal adverbials com certeza ‘certainly’ and provavelmente ‘probably’.

2.2.5. Summary

Table 2 summarizes the various modal meanings distinguished in this section.

propositional content episode state-of-affairs situational concept

– subjective epistemic – objective epistemic – event-oriented deontic
– event-oriented facultative
– participant-oriented deontic
– participant-oriented facultative

Table 2

Modality in FDG.