Max Planck Institute
for Evolutionary Anthropology
Department of Linguistics

Typological tools for field linguistics



Modality is a category of meaning that concerns two dimensions: modal force and modal flavor. The dimension of modal force concerns whether a modal marker expresses possibility or necessity, or somewhere in between, such as so-called ‘weak necessity’ modals. In English, some examples of possibility modals are might, may, can; necessity modals must, have to; weak necessity modals should, ought to. The dimension of modal flavor concerns what type of interpretation a modal marker can express. For instance, epistemic modal flavor is compatible with possible or necessary conclusions drawn from a particular body of knowledge; deontic modal flavor is compatible with a body of rules or regulations; circumstantial modal flavor is compatible with particular facts about the world. Other types of modal flavor include bouletic modal flavor, which is compatible with someone’s desires or wishes; and teleological modal flavor, which is compatible with someone’s goals.

This questionnaire is designed to be a cross-linguistic fieldwork tool to help establish a modal system in a given language and investigate the lexical specification of modal expressions. This questionnaire specifically addresses the questions: Does a given modal expression lexically specify both modal force and modal flavour? for only modal force? for only modal flavour? for neither modal force or modal flavour? Modal expressions in natural language seem to vary along these two dimensions, but the cross-linguistic parameters or potential restrictions of such variation are currently unknown.

The questionnaire
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Developed by
Jozina Vander Klok