Vous êtes sur la page 1sur 25

ED0013

Second Language Teaching and Learning






Module 2 Essay 1




"Modality: Arabic Learners Expressing Obligation at the Intermediate Level
By Gareth Williams


MA Applied Linguistics and TESOL
Leicester University 2014

Contents
1. Introduction

Page 3

1.1 Choice of Focus: Modality of Obligation

Page 3

1.2 Justification of Choice of Focus

Page 3


2. English Modality

Page 3

2.1 What is modality?

Page 3

Page 4

Page 5

3. What words are used to express modality of obligation?

Page 6

2.2 Modality in English

2.3 Categories of English modality


3.1 Must (In regards to obligation)

Page 6

3.2 Have to (in regards to obligation)

Page 7

3.3 Should (In regards to obligation)

Page 9


4. The importance of context, background assumptions and culture

Page 10


5. General problems with learning modality

Page 12

5.1 Problems for Arabic learners expressing obligation

Page 12


6. Pedagogical Implications

Page 15


7. Conclusion

Page 15

Page 17

Page 19


Bibliography

Appendices

Gareth Williams Modality: Arabic Learners Expressing Obligation at the Intermediate
Level

1. Introduction
1.1 Choice of focus: Modality of obligation

This essay will examine the teaching of modality of obligation for Arabic students at an
intermediate level. This section of the essay will describe the content of the rest of the
essay. The second section of the essay will justify the choice of focus. Section two will
attempt a description of modality as it appears in every language. Section three will
introduce the common words used to express obligation: must, have to and
should. Section four will discuss the importance of context, background assumptions
and culture towards using modality. Section five will focus on problems associated
with learning modals. Section six will propose some pedagogical implications with
reference to those problems identified in section nine. Section seven will provide some
conclusions that this essay has arrived at.

1.2 Justification for Choice of Focus

Expressing obligation is common in communicative interactions so it is highly useful to
Arabic students at an intermediate level (Saeed, 2009). It is an area that is easily
skipped over by the textbooks currently used by Arabic learners of English. The varied
meanings and forms of the modal auxiliaries present challenges for any learners of
English. These challenges are compounded for Arabic learners, as there is no similar
system of modal auxiliaries in their mother tongue.

2. English Modality
2.1 What is modality?

Very broadly, modality is a function of language that communicates statements about,
or on the basis of, situations which need not be real (Portner, 2009). To be more
specific, modality is a form of participation by the speaker in the speech event.
Gareth Williams Modality: Arabic Learners Expressing Obligation at the Intermediate
Level

Through modality, the speaker associates with an utterance an indication of its status
and validity in his own judgment (Halliday, 1970). Modality, therefore, performs the
function of expressing numerous attitudes and opinions that the speaker has to the
literal meaning of their statements. These attitudes and opinions include permission,
obligation, ability, probability, likelihood, necessity, criticism, advice, and commands,
among many others (Thornbury, 1997).

Bahloul (2008) agrees that, in any language, communication is carried out for the
purpose of influencing the listeners beliefs, attitudes, or behavior. Therefore, the act of
creating an utterance is to take a stand on the content of a thought as expressed to an
audience. That stance is actuated through the system of modality (Bahloul, 2008).
Bahloul describes every utterance as an interaction between a lexical component and a
modality component. Modality is, therefore, present throughout language as an
inherent characteristic of every utterance.

2.2 Modality in English


In English, modality is expressed in two ways: lexical modality and grammatical
modality. As we can see from Bahlouls definition, the lexis of English will carry literal
meaning concurrently with modal meaning. Therefore, an example of lexical modality
might be, I hope the bus arrives on time where the word hope also carries its own
lexical meaning. Modality can also be communicated using adverbs and adjectives, for
example, likely and probably (Thornbury, 1997).

A distinctive feature of English is the second form of modality: grammatical modality.
This form of modality can be expressed through a range of dedicated auxiliary verbs:
must, may, might, can, could, will, would, shall, and should (Thornbury, 1997). These
pure modals do not carry any independent lexical meaning they function solely to
convey grammatical modality. Pure modals retain certain formal characteristics: they
are not inflected in the third person, are followed by the bare infinitive, are negated
Gareth Williams Modality: Arabic Learners Expressing Obligation at the Intermediate
Level

by the addition of nt or not, are inverted with the subject to form a question, and
they have no past tense form (Parrott, 2012). Others, like have to are described as
semi modals because, although they perform a similar function, they differ from pure
modals by being marked for tense and number (have to, had to, has to).

2.3 Categories of English modality

For the purposes of addressing the modal function of obligation, this essay will focus
on deontic modality with occasional reference to epistemic modality. Portner (2009)
defines epistemic modality as being concerned with knowledge, while deontic
modality is concerned with right and wrong according to some system of rules. Palmer
(1997) gives the following examples:

(a) John must be in his office. (Epistemic modality)

(b) John must come in now. (Deontic modality)

The function of expressing obligation is, therefore, an example of deontic modality.

Some linguists provide four or more categories of modality (Bahloul, 2008; Kratzer,
1977; Palmer, 1997). However, it is acknowledged that these categories are not
exhaustive and often overlap (Bahloul, 2008). By focusing this essay on deontic
modality with occasional comparison to epistemic modality it is hoped that certain
aspects of modal auxiliary verbs, such as the importance of context, will be clarified.

Although most linguists use the terms deontic and epistemic modality, these terms can
usefully be reframed as intrinsic and extrinsic modality. Extrinsic modality focuses on
evaluations of likelihood, certainty or possibility (Thornbury, 2006). For example, The
bus will probably arrive on time. Thus extrinsic modality provides a description of the
outside world. Intrinsic modality focuses on notions of obligation, desirability and
Gareth Williams Modality: Arabic Learners Expressing Obligation at the Intermediate
Level

necessity, for example, The bus driver ought to drive carefully. Intrinsic modality
provides an interpersonal reason for acting (Thornbury, 2006). The function of
obligation is an example of intrinsic (or deontic) modality. The speaker is clearly
providing an interpersonal reason to the addressee for acting (or not).

3. What words are used to express modality of obligation?

Focusing on the intrinsic modality of obligation, there are three common ways to
express varying degrees of obligation: have (got) to, must and should. In English,
modals are often present in weak form (Roach, 2010). There is no weak form in Arabic
(Kenworthy, 1988). This can cause confusion for Arabic leaners of English, both for
their reception and production of modals.

3.1 Must (in regards to obligation)

Meaning:

Must is a pure modal verb that is used to describe obligation or compulsion imposed
by the speaker (Leech, 2004). For example, You must speak to him politely describes
obligation that the speaker is imposing upon the listener. We can use must to give
strong advice or orders to ourselves or others (Swan, 2002).

Many linguists describe the use of must in terms of the authority lying within the
speaker (Leech, 2004; Swan, 2002) - contrasting this with the use of have to where
the authority exists external to the speaker. While acknowledging this demarcation as
a useful rule of thumb, Parrot (2012), states that many people dont make this
distinction. He asserts that some people rarely use must to express any obligation,
reserving it to express logical deduction or advice.

Gareth Williams Modality: Arabic Learners Expressing Obligation at the Intermediate
Level

The negative must not or mustnt communicates prohibition (DeCapua, 2008), for
example, You mustnt speak to him rudely. Must expresses obligation in present
and future.

Form:

Affirmative: (Subject) + must + (bare infinitive)

Negative: (Subject) + must not/mustnt + (bare infinitive)

Interrogative: Must + (subject) + (bare infinitive)

Must cannot be inflected for number or time. There is no past tense form of must.
(DeCapua, 2008) It cannot be followed by to + infinitive (E.g. must to go) The
question form of must uses inversion of subject and modal, for example, Must you?
Yes, I must.

Phonology:

In connected speech the elision of the /t/ sound from must often occurs because it is
preceeded by another consonant (Lecumberri, 2000).

3.2 Have (got) to (in regards to obligation)

Meaning:

Have to is modal in meaning but not in form (Parrott, 2012). The meanings of have
to relate closely to those of must (Leech, 2004). Swan asserts that both have to
and must can be used in British English to express obligation. He states that have to
is the normal form in American English. He explains that, in British English, the use of
Gareth Williams Modality: Arabic Learners Expressing Obligation at the Intermediate
Level

have to indicates the source of authority as being external to the speaker (Swan,
2002). Parrots (2012) objection to this distinction (as outlined in 3.1) makes no
mention of the possibility of the difference lying between British and American
English. DeCapua (2008) agrees with Parrots objection and prefers to demarcate
must and have to in terms of strength of obligation must expressing stronger
obligation than have to.

The meanings of Mustnt and dont have to are completely different (Swan, 2002)
You mustnt do something, means it is necessary that you do not do it (so dont do it).
You dont have to do something, means you dont need to do it (but you can if you
want). (Murphy, 2000) You mustnt speak to him rudely, means the speaker is
prohibiting the listener from speaking rudely. You dont have to speak to him
politely, means the speaker is leaving open the option to speak politely or not.

Form:

Affirmative: (Subject) + have to/has to + (bare infinitive)

Negative: (Subject) + do not/does not/dont/doesnt + have to + (bare infinitive)

Interrogative: Do/Does + (subject) + have to + (bare infinitive)

Have to is differentiated from must in that it is a semi modal. The difference being
that it is inflected for time, number and tense (Thornbury, 2006). The role of have to,
is, among other things, to conjugate into the past tense because must cant do that
(Swan, 2002).

Phonology:

Gareth Williams Modality: Arabic Learners Expressing Obligation at the Intermediate
Level

The pronunciation of have to is /hft/ and has to is /hst/. In connected


speech, the pronunciation of have got to will typically contract to /gt/. This can
cause confusion for Arabic learners, especially when they are listening to informal
speech.

3.3 Should (in regards to obligation)

Meaning:

Should is a pure modal verb that expresses weaker obligation than must (DeCapua,
2008; Leech, 2004; Swan, 2002). Should means that something is a good thing to do
or the right thing to do (Murphy, 2000). For example, You should speak to him
politely. The function of obligation as communicated by should divides further into
duty, advice, and to give opinions of what is right and wrong (Swan, 2002). The
negative should not or shouldnt infers the recommendation to not do something,
for example, You shouldnt speak to him rudely.

Form:

Affirmative: (Subject) + should + (bare infinitive)

Negative: (Subject) + should not/shouldnt + (bare infinitive)

Interrogative: Should + (subject) + (bare infinitive)

Like all pure modals should cannot be inflected for number or time. It cannot be
followed by to + infinitive, for example, [] should to go.

Phonology:

Gareth Williams Modality: Arabic Learners Expressing Obligation at the Intermediate
Level

The l in should is not pronounced at all. When expressing the negative the elision of
d often occurs. For example, shouldnt = / nt/.

4. The importance of context, culture and background assumptions

Many linguists agree that often only context makes modal meaning clear (Parrott,
2012; Thornbury, 2006). Portner (2009) describes the context of modal usage as
speaker, addressee, time of utterance, and place of utterance. Identical utterances
made within different contexts will have different meanings.

Consider the following sentences (a) and (b):

(a)

You should try these pieces of broccoli, the sauce is great! as spoken by a
mother to her child.


(b)

You should try these pieces of broccoli, the sauce is great! as spoken by
the same woman to a friend.


Clearly the statement (b) has more of a function of advice to it and the statement (a)
has more of a function of command. The context of addressee has changed the
meaning of the modal should.

Hinkel (1995) identifies a further complication in understanding the meaning of
modals by noting that common cultural beliefs and pragmatic assumptions include
views on what is required, necessary, and appropriate. Statements are fundamentally
informed by an individuals values - values that differ between cultures (Hinkel, 1995).

Hinkel gives the following example, You must always look after your parents as
spoken by a Chinese immigrant in a western country. This statement could easily be
influenced by Confucian and Taoist philosophies that imply different nuances of modal
Gareth Williams Modality: Arabic Learners Expressing Obligation at the Intermediate
Level

10

meaning than if the same statement was made by a person of a different culture.
Although love for ones family exists in all cultures in western countries, Hinkel points
out that presuppositions, which underlie our modal statements, are relative to an
assumed norm that is heavily influenced by cultural norms.

Kratzer (1977) encompasses such notions of context and culture by identifying
conversational background assumptions that establish which kind of modal meaning is
implied (deontic or epistemic, for example). By examining the modal must closely,
she identifies a core modal meaning along the lines of in view of x where x is a
background conversational assumption. The background conversational assumption
informs which particular meaning of must is intended.

Kratzer raises the following examples:

(a)

All Maori children must learn the names of their ancestors.

(b)

The ancestors of the Maoris must have arrived from Tahiti.



The different meanings of must used here can be highlighted by what is inferred
within each sentence:

(a)

In view of what their tribal duties are, all Maori children must learn the
names of their ancestors.


(b)

In view of what is known, the ancestors of the Maoris must have arrived
from Tahiti.


The conversational background that is inferred by use of the word must decides its
intended meaning. The fact that the speaker and listener could understand a particular
conversational background in a different way shows how subjective the meaning of
Gareth Williams Modality: Arabic Learners Expressing Obligation at the Intermediate
Level

11

modals can be.



As described above, the meaning of modal auxiliaries can be influenced by context,
cultural expectations, and the background conversational assumptions of speaker and
addressee. These shades of meaning conveyed through modality create challenges for
Arabic learners of English (Saeed, 2009).

5. General problems with learning modality:

In general, all learners of English will have problems using modals and their related
structures because of their varied uses and meanings (DeCapua, 2008). Common
problems for all English learners will include choosing when to use modals, choosing
which ones to use, and constructing questions and negative statements (Parrott,
2012). The meaning of different modals overlaps sometimes in quite surprising
ways, for example, may meaning must in some contexts (Charnock, 2009).
Alternatively, their meanings can change in unexpected ways when they are used in
negative sentences, for example, cant and dont have to (Thornbury, 2005). The
same modals can also be used to communicate a variety of different meanings, for
example, the epistemic and deontic must (Palmer, 1997).

5.1 Problems for Arabic learners expressing obligation

Arabic students at an intermediate level struggle with the meaning and use of have
to, must and should. Arabic students will have particular problems with
constructing questions because the Arabic language does not invert to create question
statements (Al-Mekhlafi, 2013). Furthermore, the inversion of the pure modals must
and should differ from the semi-modal have to as the latter deploys do and
does.

The overlap between the meaning and function of modals cause difficulties for Arabic
Gareth Williams Modality: Arabic Learners Expressing Obligation at the Intermediate
Level

12

learners (Saeed, 2009). Arabic learners, for example, struggle to differentiate


accurately between the meaning of must and should, due to these modals
conveying related senses (Saeed, 2009). Further problems arise as a result of must
having different functions, that of expressing logical deduction and expressing
obligation (DeCapua, 2008). Saeed (2009) identifies should as a particularly difficult
modal for Arabic learners to master as a result of it being used to convey the functions
of advice, warning, necessity, criticism, regret, and inferring probability (Saeed, 2009).

Arabic is also a language that does not deploy a system of modality through auxiliary
verbs (Al-Mekhlafi, 2013; Danks, 2011; Saeed, 2009). Danks (2011) points out that
modality is expressed in a different way than in Arabic, referring to the Arabic
equivalent of may attached to verbs via affixation. Al-Mekhlafi (2013) states that
Arabic question formation does not involve any auxiliary verb a clear problem for
Arabic students learning the English auxiliary modal system.

Saeed (2009) goes further and says that there is no system of modality in Arabic at all.
While he agrees that there are some Arabic markers that are somewhat similar to the
modals in English (for example, sa and swafa), he believes that they do not constitute a
modal system that communicates a wide variety of senses and attitudes.

Bahlouls (2008) definition of modality as described in section 2.1 of this essay makes
clear that all languages must exhibit some characteristics of modality and Arabic is no
exception. However, it is accurate to state that Arabic makes no use of a system of
auxiliary verbs (Al-Mekhlafi, 2013), which in English is a significant vessel for
delivering modal meaning. Saeed (2009) is therefore correct to say that English
modality places Arabic learners in a particularly difficult position, as they need to learn
a totally new system (modal auxiliaries) that does not exist in the syntactic system of
their mother tongue.

Saeed (2009) points out that most textbooks attempt a shallow treatment of modals,
Gareth Williams Modality: Arabic Learners Expressing Obligation at the Intermediate
Level

13

focusing on form at the expense of more essential aspects, i.e. use and functions, which
renders modals a real challenge even for advanced learners. An examination of two
textbooks, one of which is currently used by more than 1400 Arabic students in a
popular high school in the UAE, lends evidence to such a judgment. As seen in
Appendix A (Evans, 2008), the brief exposure that modality is given arrives in a totally
de-contextualized list of gap-fill exercises. Furthermore, more than one answer could
be used in several of the exercises. The lack of context, the focus on form and the
superficial approach to these modals largely undermines the effectiveness of this
section of the book.

In Appendix B (Fuchs, 2000), we see an older textbook previously used in UAE
classrooms. More context is provided in this older textbook than in the newer one.
However, although form and function are included for the students, there is no direct
relationship between the examples provided for each modal and the context in which
each modal appears in the text.

Saeed is right to point out the issue of how modality is presented to Arabic learners.
Textbooks tend to deal with modals superficially, with a focus on form at the expense
of meaning and without the necessary degree of context required to communicate the
subtleties of the modal auxiliaries. After a study on verb acquisition by Arabic learners
of English, Saeed (2011) advises that teachers should put vocabulary items in
contextualized passages, which facilitate Arab learners grasping the subtle variations
of meaning that a lexical item possesses.

Such an argument could be extended to the acquisition of modals. As Leech (2004)
points out, modality is difficult to grasp for precisely the reasons Saeed (2011) states;
the shades of meaning conveyed by modality become remolded by social and
psychological factors of everyday communication. These factors include, but are not
limited to, notions of impetus, condescension, civility, diplomacy and sarcasm. We can
infer from Saeeds position regarding acquisition of vocabulary items in general that
Gareth Williams Modality: Arabic Learners Expressing Obligation at the Intermediate
Level

14

Arab learners should be presented with modals within contextualized content. This
will guarantee them the best chance to get a sense of the subtleties of modal meaning.

6. Pedagogical implications

Having identified this area of grammatical confusion, responsibility lies with teachers
to focus on this area rather than to try to teach the whole of grammar (Ellis, 2006).
Suggestions for teaching the modality of obligation to Arabic learners include:

1) Using textbooks that focus on the meaning, form and context of modal
auxiliaries.

2) Placing the modal auxiliaries into context in order to display their meaning
clearly.

3) Raising students consciousness of modal auxiliaries; in particular, their role in
question formation and negative statements.

4) Drawing students attention to the function of each modal auxiliary as it
appears in any given context.

7. Conclusion

Expressing obligation is an important part of the communication needs of
intermediate level Arabic students. The nature of the meaning and form of the most
common words used to describe obligation, must, have to and should, is such that
they can easily be misconstrued for meaning and misapplied for form. For these
reasons, the modality of obligation is a vital area that must be approached by teachers
of intermediate Arabic students with careful attention.
Word count: 3300
Gareth Williams Modality: Arabic Learners Expressing Obligation at the Intermediate
Level

15

Gareth Williams Modality: Arabic Learners Expressing Obligation at the Intermediate


Level

16

Bibliography
Al-Mekhlafi, M. (2013). A study of question formation in the English writing of Omani Efl learners.
Standard Journal of Education and Essay, 1(4).
Bahloul, M. (2008). Structure and Function of the Arabic Verb. New York: Routledge.
Charnock, R. (2009). When may means must: deontic modality in English statute construction. In
E. C. Traugott (Ed.), Topics in English Linguistics : Modality in English : Theory and
Description. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
Danks, W. (2011). The Arabic Verb. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company.
DeCapua, A. (2008). Grammar for Teachers. New Rochelle: Springer.
Ellis, R. (2006). Current Issues in the Teaching of Grammar: An SLA Perspective. TESOL Quarterly,
40(1).
Evans, V. (2008). Upstream. Berkshire: Express Publishing.
Fuchs, M. (2000). Focus on Grammar - A High Intermediate Course for Reference and Practice.
White Plains: Pearson Education.
Halliday, M. (1970). Functional Diversity in Language as Seen from a Consideration of Modality and
Mood in English. Foundations of English, 6(3).
Hinkel, E. (1995). The Use of Modal Verbs as a Reflection of Cultural Values. TESOL Quarterly,
29(2).
Kenworthy, J. (1988). Teaching English Pronunciation. New York: Longman.
Kratzer, A. (1977). What "must" and "can" must and can mean. Linguistics and Philosophy, 1(1).
Lecumberri, M. (2000). English Transcription Course. London: Hodder Arnold.
Leech, G. (2004). Meaning and the English Verb. Harlow: Pearson Education Limited.
Murphy, R. (2000). English Grammar in Use. Cambridge: CUP.
Gareth Williams Modality: Arabic Learners Expressing Obligation at the Intermediate
Level

17

Palmer, F. (1997). The English Verb. Singapore: Longman.


Parrott, M. (2012). Grammar for English Language Teachers. Cambridge: CUP.
Portner, P. (2009). Modality. Oxford: OUP.
Roach, P. (2010). English Phonetics and Phonology. Cambridge: CUP.
Saeed, A. (2009). Arab EFL Learners' Acquisition of Modals. Research in Language, 7.
Saeed, A. (2011). Arab EFL Learners' Acquisition of Verbs of Senses. Studia Anglica Posnaniensia,
47(1).
Swan, M. (2002). Practical English Usage. Oxford: OUP.
Thornbury, S. (1997). About Language. Cambridge: CUP.
Thornbury, S. (2005). Uncovering Grammar. Oxford: Macmillan.
Thornbury, S. (2006). An A-Z of ELT. Oxford: Macmillan.

Gareth Williams Modality: Arabic Learners Expressing Obligation at the Intermediate


Level

18

Appendix A


Gareth Williams Modality: Arabic Learners Expressing Obligation at the Intermediate
Level

19

Appendix B


Gareth Williams Modality: Arabic Learners Expressing Obligation at the Intermediate
Level

20


Gareth Williams Modality: Arabic Learners Expressing Obligation at the Intermediate
Level

21


Gareth Williams Modality: Arabic Learners Expressing Obligation at the Intermediate
Level

22


Gareth Williams Modality: Arabic Learners Expressing Obligation at the Intermediate
Level

23

Gareth Williams Modality: Arabic Learners Expressing Obligation at the Intermediate


Level

24

Gareth Williams Modality: Arabic Learners Expressing Obligation at the Intermediate


Level

25