A contrastive analysis of the meanings expressed via the modal verbs can, may, must in English and the equivalent expressions in Vietnamese

Writing is a very important skill in teaching and learning English especially paragraph writing. But for the first – year language students at National Economics University (NEU), they still get many difficulties in paragraph writing. Understanding their problems, I decided to do a research on teaching paragraph writing with the hope that I can provide the teachers of English at NEW with the real situation about their students’ difficulties. In the study, I try to find out the students’ common errors in language, idea organization, and content. With these findings, I will recommend the best teaching methodology to help teachers of English deal with their students’ problems like using pictures and using readings with various activities such as working with the text using copying, working with the text to examine cohesive links, working with the text to combine sentence, etc. Moreover, I will mentions to teachers’ correction. How to deal with students’ errors? Which errors teachers should correct? When to correct? I myself also will design a check - list of paragraph writing for students can check by themselves or check for their partners. With my findings and my suggestions for teaching paragraph writing for the first year language students at NEW, I hope that the teachers of English at NEW will have a basic background of students to apply a suitable way of teaching in order help them to overcome their problems.

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Certificate of originality I, Nguyen Minh Hue, hereby claim the originality of my study. Unless otherwise indicated, this is my own piece of academic accomplishment. Signature Acknowledgements I am sincerely grateful to Assoc. Prof. Dr. Vo Dai Quang, my supervisor, for his wisdom, critical comments and precious advice spared for me. Without his guidance, encouragement and critical comments the work would have never been completed. I owe a debt of gratitude to all my lecturers at the University of Languages and International Studies - Vietnam National University, Hanoi, for their enthusiastic teaching and tremendous knowledge that have directly or indirectly enlightened my research paper. I would like to express my gratitude to all of my colleagues at the ESP Department, ULIS -VNU, Hanoi for their constant encouragement and the favourable conditions spared for my study. Finally, my warmest thanks go to my parents, my husband for their love, support and share of housework and childcare. Without their help this thesis could not have gained the current status. Hanoi, December - 2006 Nguyen Minh Hue TABLE OF CONTENTS Part A. Introduction 1. Rationale of the study In everyday communication, both the speaker and writer do not simply describe events, processes or states of affairs. By means of language, they also wish to express their emotions and attitudes; or to influence in some way the addressee’s beliefs, behaviours. Usually, the speaker not only says something true, something that will definitely happen or happened, but also says something he/ she does not know for sure. 1. Tom is happy. 2. Tom seems (to be) happy. 3. I think Tom is happy. 4. Perhaps Tom is happy. While statement (1) expresses the speaker’s assertion of a fact, statements (2), (3) and (4) show his indefinite commitment to the proposition “Tom is happy”. The area of semantics that concerns this expressive and social information of statements is modality. In comparison with absolute commitments where the speaker definitely asserts, relative commitments play a very important role in communication. In fact, using too many absolute commitments probably lessens communicative effects because the speaker will be seen as a rude or imposing person, disobeying politeness strategies. That’s why the speakers often hedge, using modalized phrases such as I think (that), I suppose (that) first to express their subjective attitudes and second to show their politeness to listeners. Hence, it becomes very interesting and essential to study modality in general and to investigate how much a speaker commits to what he says in particular. Modality has gained much popularity among linguists. The different ways in which different langauges allow speakers to insert themselves into their discourse, expressing their desires or opinions have become a common subject of study. From syntax to prosody, the study of modality has spawned innumerable academic papers, namely Bybee (1985), Lyons (1977) and others. Vietnamese modal system has also been studied by Hoµng Phª (1984) and §ç H÷u Ch©u (1989). According to Lyons, a speaker’s qualification of his commitment to the truth of his/ her proposition becomes an important issue. In Vietnam, there are several English-written M.A theses on this issue, for example, Modality and Modal Auxiliaries: A systemic comparison of English and Vietnamese by §ç H÷u HuyÕn (1996), English Epistemic Markers in Contrastive Analysis with Vietnamese by Ngò ThiÖn Hïng (1996), A Contrastive Study of the Modal Devices Expressing Possibility in Modern English and Vietnamese by §inh Gia H­ng (2001). Hoµng Thu Giang (2001) also makes a comparison between different types of modal expressions in English and their Vietnamese equivalents. NguyÔn D­¬ng Nguyªn Ch©u (1999) sets for the discussion on pragmatic interpretation of obligation meanings expressed particularly by English modals must, should, have to. The researches in English focus on analyzing both the most common form and content of modality. As a result, a full and specific description of syntactic and semantic features of English modal verbs can, may, must and the equivalent expressions in Vietnamese has not been given yet. Thus, a research on the meanings expressed by the modal verbs can, may, must in English in contrastive analysis with Vietnamese seems to be necessary. Though many pages, chapters, books have been written about the English modal system, it still remains a complicated and troublesome area of language for linguists and learners of English. The problem can be traced to the polysemy/ ambiguity of modal meanings. Semantically, a modal can convey either deontic or epistemic modality. In the sociophysical (deontic) world, the must in “John must go to all the department parties” is taken as indicating an obligation imposed upon the person realized by the subject of the sentence by the speaker (or by some other agents). In the epistemic world, the must in the same sentence could be read as a logical necessity according to the reasoning “I must conclude that it is John’s habit to go to all department parties (because I see his name on the sign-up sheet every time, and he’s always out on those nights)”. In addition, there is considerable overlap between modals. It is hard to discern any semantic difference among them since modals are almost sustitutable in most contexts, e.g. can and may in “You can/ may leave”. Pragmatically, we can talk about modal meanings in terms of such logical notions as “permission” and “necessity”, but this done, we still have to consider ways in which these notions become remoulded by the psychological pressures of everyday communication between human beings: factors such as condescension, politeness, tact and irony. The learning of meanings expressed by modals and how to use them correctly has not been, then, an easy task for learners of English. Learners are often confused in choosing the appropriate modal to make themselves understood. This problem is especially more embarrassing when they encounter different modals conveying similar meanings. Also, they can produce grammatically correct utterances, but do not understand properly the social and cultural information each modal meaning conveys. Furthermore, due to the structuralist approach to grammar teaching, learners can memorize modals with their meanings given, but do not know how to use them to improve their communicative competence, say, to mitigate directness, to express politeness, to make assertions in social interaction. Despite the fact that earlier researches on modality contribute greatly to helping acquire English modality usage, it is still considered one of the most difficult aspects of learning English. The topic of this study was prompted at first by my guide to my students in improving reading skill and in doing some English-Vietnamese translation. I found that students still have many problems in understanding the texts, and especially in interpreting the writer’s opinion and attitude expressed by such typical modals as can, may, must. With all these reasons, I made up my mind to choose and to go further into the topic: A contrastive analysis of the meanings expressed via the modal verbs can, may, must in English and the equivalent expressions in Vietnamese. 2. Aims of the study This study - A contrastive analysis of the meanings expressed via the modals can, may, must in English and the equivalent expressions in Vietnamese – is focused on investigating the semantic analysis of modal meanings expressed by can, may, must in English and their equivalents in Vietnamese. It is aimed at: - studying some preliminaries and features of modal auxiliaries in English and in Vietnamese. - making a comparison between modal meanings expressed by can, may, must in English and their Vietnamese equivalent expressions. - offering some suggestions for the application of the study to the teaching of English modals. 3. Scope of the study This study is confined to the meanings expressed via the three modal verbs can, may, must in English, their semantic features and the equivalent expressions in Vietnamese. English modals are widely utilized in both spoken and written discourse and cover various functional styles. It would be interesting to investigate their uses in them all. However, in order to make our tasks manageable in keeping the aims of the study, within the time allowance, it is intended that the most attention is paid to written discourse. 4. Methodology A combination of different methods of analysis will be used in this study. The first is the descriptive method. English modals can, may, must will be described in turns in order to find out their semantic features. However, the major method utilized in this study is the contrastive analysis between the meanings expressed via the modal verbs can, may, must in English and the equivalent expressions in Vietnamese. English modal verbs are chosen as the references and we base on these instruments to find out all the equivalents in Vietnamese. To apply these methods and to achieve the study goals, translation is the main technique for comparison between English modal verbs and the equivalent expressions in Vietnamese. With written discourse, data employed for analysis will be extracted from the novel Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte – a famous writer in the nineteenth century realistic literature of England. This novel is taken from the website The reason for choosing Jane Eyre is that it is a well-known literary work in which can, may and must are widely used so that the contrastive analysis can be easily done. Based on thirty - eight chapters of this novel and its translation by TrÇn Anh Kim (1996), the data are chosen at random. Then the data are analyzed and systematized to work out a fresh insight into the meanings expressed by can, may, must and their equivalents in Vietnamese. 5. Design of the study The study is composed of three parts. Part A is the introduction which presents rationales, literature review, aims, scope of the study as well as the methodology for the research. Part B is the main part which consists of three chapters. Chapter one is about the theoretical background for the research. This chapter is aimed at establishing the framework of investigation. It chiefly deals with modality and modal verbs in English and in Vietnamese. Chapter two is focused on investigating the meanings expressed by can, may, must and on contrastive analysis of the meanings expressed by can, may, must and the Vietnamese equivalents cã thÓ, ph¶i. Chapter three deals with the applicability of the study results to the teaching of can, may, must to Vietnamese learners of English. It discusses some challenges in teaching and learning English modals. It also puts forward some suggestions for the teaching of English modals. The final part is the conclusion which presents a recapitulation of the study and provides possible concluding remarks and suggestions for further research. Part B: Development Chapter 1: Theoretical background 1.1. Concept of modality in English 1.1.1. Definition of modality From the Latin word modalitas, the quality of modality relates to manners (a way of acting or speaking), forms (shape, structure), and limits (something that restrains). The term is used to cover linguistic expression of these concepts other than through the modal auxiliaries: ‘It will possibly rain later this evening’, ‘I am sure that the plane has landed by now’, ‘You have my permission to smoke now.’ Modality is central to research done in many disciplines, but rarely receives unified treatment in logic, in (western) philosophy, or in linguistics. In modern logic, for example, one generally analyses a single semantic value for a modal verb such as can, may, or must in English or cã thÓ, cã lÏ or nªn in Vietnamese. As these verbs occur in different contexts and are sensitive to interaction with time and aspect markers, they can receive different values. The modal value of a statement is the way, or ‘mode’, in which it is true or false: e.g. certainly so, currently so, necessarily so. In logic, modality usually means ‘logical modality’, that is the logical necessity or possibility of a statement’s truth or falsity. Nevertheless, logic begins but does not end with the study of truth values. Within truth, there are modes of truth, ways of being true: necessary truth and contigent truth. When a proposition is true, we may say whether it could have been false. If so, then it is contigent true. If not, then it is necessarily true; it must be true; it could not have been false. Falsity has modes as well: a false proposition that could not have been true is impossible or necessarily false; one that could have been true is merely contigently false. The proposition ‘New York is a rich city’ is contigently true; the proposition that ‘Two and two is four’ is necessarily true; the proposition ‘Her husband is female’ is impossible, and the proposition that ‘Women don’t give births’ is contigently false. In logic, modality is concerned with how what is said is related to the fact that rather than with what purpose, attitude or judgement a speaker has in uttering. It is because of this reason that modality in logic is considered objective modality. While traditional logic has been more concerned with objective modality, which excludes speakers, modality in language seems to be essentially subjective, i.e. it refers to the speaker’s opinion or attitude. This is reasonable because in everyday conversation and in different contexts, all utterances show the purpose, attitude or assessment of the speaker. Modality in language is, then, concerned with subjectiveness of an utterance. In subjective modality, speakers express the fact with their own intention or judgement. The subjectivity is seen in different aspects: speakers’ commitment toward the factuality of what is said, speakers’ judgement toward a proposition, whether it is positive or negative, advantageous or disadvantageous etc. It is modality that gives more meanings to utterances. Together with fast development of semantics and pragmatics, modality has received more linguists’ concerns. Lyons (1977) says that modality is the speaker’s opinion or attitude towards ‘the proposition that the sentence expresses or the situation that the proposition describes.’ Palmer (1986) defines modality as semantic information associated with the speaker’s attitude or opinion about what is said. According to Frawley (1992), modality semantically reflects a speaker’s attitude or degrees of awareness of the content of a proposition. In Vietnam, for the past few years, modality has been the focus of many linguists and researchers such as Hoµng Phª, §ç H÷u Ch©u and others. Hoµng Träng PhiÕn broadly explains modality as a grammatical category which appears in all kinds of sentence. From the definition of modality mentioned above, we can see that to some extent linguists have one thing in common seeing that modality describes the speaker’s attitude or judgement toward the proposition and not the proposition itself. The notional content of modality highlights its association with entire statements. Modality concerns the factual status of information; it signals the relative actuality, validity, or believability of the content of an expression. Modality reflects the overall assertability of an expression and thus takes the entire proposition within its scope. In the utterance ‘It may be raining’, for example, the speaker is not committing himself wholeheartedly to the truth of the proposition. He is not making a categorical assertion, but rather modifying his commiment to some degree by expressing a judgement of the truth of the situation. 1.1.2. Types of modality Types of modality are classified differently according to different linguists. Von Wright (1951: 1-2) in “Studying modal logic” distinguishes 4 types: Alethic, Epistemic, Deontic and Existential. Rescher (1968), apart from these types, refers to one more type it is temporal modality. Leech and Startvik (1985: 219-221) suggest 2 types: Intrinsic and Extrinsic modality. Types of modality in Halliday’s view. Halliday’s view on types of modality could be summed up as follow. “Polarity is the choice between positive and negative, as in is/ isn’t, do/ don’t. However, the possibilities are not limited to a choice between yes and no. There are intermediate degress: various kinds of indeterminacy that fall in between, like “sometimes” or “maybe”. The intermediate degrees between the positive and negative poles, are known collectively as modality”. (Halliday, 1985: 85-86) He further expresses the commodity exchanged & the speech function and the types of intermediacy in this chart Commodity exchanged Speech function Types of intermediacy Information Proposition Statement question Modality Probability (possible/ probable/ certain) Frequency (sometimes/ usually/ always) Goods & services Proposal Command Modulation Obligation (allowed/ supposed/ required) Offer Inclination (willing/ anxious/ determined) As can be seen from the chart, in a proposition, the meaning of positive and negative poles is asserting “It is so” and denying “It isn’t so”. He observes two kinds of intermediate possibilities: (1) degree of probability (possible -> probable -> certain) which is equivalent to may be “yes”, may be “no” with different degrees of likelihood attached and (2) degree of usuality (i.e sometimes “yes” sometimes “no”). In a proposal, there are two kinds of intermediate possibilities: (1) in a command, the intermediate points represent degrees of obligation and (2) in an offer, they represent degrees of described duty. However, the classification made by Sweetser and Palmer, in my opinion, seems the most acceptable for its clarity and generalization which can be applied to the linguistic study from different angles: semantic, logic and pragmatic. They are Epistemic & Deontic modality. Analyzing such a sentence as “He must be in his office”, we can see this may have two interpretations, depending on the modality assigned to the modal verb “must”. In one sense, it means “I am certain that he is in his office” (By my reasoning and judgement). In another sense, it has the interpretation of “He is obliged to be in his office” (He has no choice but to be in his office). In the formal sense, the modal auxiliary “must” is epistemic and in the latter it is deontic. Lyons (1977: 793) (in conjunction with other scholars) states: “Epistemic modality is concerned with matters of knowledge, belief” or “opinion rather than fact”. Palmer (1990:7) considers that epistemic modality in language is often, may be always, subjective in a way it is associated with the deduction of the speakers and not only simply interest in the subjective judgment in the light of reality. And “Deontic modality is concerned with the necessity of possibility of acts performed by morally responsible agents” (Lyons 1977: 823). By means of this, speakers intervene in or bring about changes in events. 1.2. Modal verbs in English 1.2.1. Concept of modal verbs Language is not always used just to exchange information by making simple statements and asking questions. Sometimes, we want to make requests, offers, or suggestions. We may also want to express our wishes, intentions or indicate our feelings about what we are saying. In English, we do all these things by using a set of verbs called modal verbs or modal auxiliaries. The modal auxiliaries such as can, could, may, might, will, would, must, should and ought to express different types of modal meanings. These modal auxiliaries or modals for short are one of the most complicated problems of the English verbs. Michael Lewis (1986: 99) quoted Palmer’s remarks about the modals: “There is no doubt that the overall picture of t