LSJapL 01: The discourse functions of the modal auxiliaries wake da and no da in Japanese

Référence: ISBN 9783895862960

The discourse functions of the modal auxiliaries wake da and no da in Japanese
Xiangdong Liu
University of Western Sydney

This study investigates the discourse functions of two common modal auxiliaries in Japanese - wake da and no da – in written discourse, and the essential differences between them.

Although previous studies provide a wealth of information on the uses and meanings of these two expressions, they have shown serious limitations and problems. The majority of previous works are carried out at the level of the sentence or paragraph, and rely on the scholars’ own interpretations of the meanings, or their subjective judgments regarding whether or not one expression can be replaced by the other. They focus on descriptions of the similarities and interchangeabilities between the two expressions, rather than their distinctive characteristics and functions. Many researchers characterize the functions of both of the two expressions as ‘asking or giving explanations’ or ‘conveying explanatory modality’.

This study examines authentic data from Japanese newspapers at the text level with reference to the original context and linguistic features, such as lexical chains, as objective clues. The investigation focuses on the distinctive functions of each of the expressions and their fundamental differences. To avoid potential circularity, likely to be caused by using similar terms in definitions, this study adopts a component approach when describing the discourse functions of the two expressions. This study has found that, although certain syntactic features and logical relations make the two modal auxiliaries similar superficially, they are distinct from each other in terms of (1) the types of modality they carry; (2) the attitudes of the writer they indicate; (3) the nature of information they convey; and (4) the ways they relate to the rest of the text. The key findings of this study have gone beyond the limitations of previous research and confirmed the basic thesis proposed. That is, it is not adequate to simply conclude, as some previous studies suggest, that wake da and no da are interchangeable. Although it may often be grammatically acceptable to substitute one for the other in an isolated sentence, one is more or less suitable than the other in each particular context.

Furthermore, summary expressions such as ‘explanatory modal auxiliaries’ or ‘asking or giving explanations’ are found not to be sufficient to describe the discourse functions of these two modal auxiliaries. The information expressed by a sentence involving wake da or no da (including their variants) is far more than merely explanation. It involves the writer’s attitude towards the information conveyed in the proposition; the nature of the information, and the way the sentences involving the auxiliaries related to the rest of the text.

ISBN 9783895862960. LINCOM Studies in Japanese Linguistics 01. 260pp. 2008.

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