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A Study on Modal Verbs in Chinese Academic Writing and its Pedagogical Applications
Academic writing is written by an investigator to describe the research process and present the study that he or she has completed, and modality refers to devices which allow speakers to convey propositional attitude or belief toward a situation. Existing research in academic writing has confirmed its role on organizing a discourse or writer’s stance and involving readers into discussion. While the study of Chinese modality in syntax and semantics field has been extensively investigated, the functional perspective of Chinese modals is unexplored. Therefore, in order to fill this gap in the study of Chinese modality, the specific aims in this paper are using Chinese modals “neng/nenggou” and “ke/keyi” as examples to identify the frequencies of uses, meanings and functions, to elucidate the subtle differences between these two modal verbs, and finally to explicate the interplay between modals and academic contexts. The data were drawn from doctoral dissertations from colleges of biomedical engineering and liberal arts of various famous universities in Taiwan. The qualitative and quantitative results show that the uses of “ke” in both colleges are higher than “neng.” In addition, the frequencies of dynamic uses are also higher than deontic uses. At the pragmatic level, firstly, the metadiscourse functions of the two verbs are highly overlapped; however, the frequency of “ke” appears as a metadiscoure feature in two disciplines are much higher than “neng,” which sugguests that writers are used to employing “ke” as a pragmatic device on text and stance organization, and “neng” only plays the role of expressing propositional meaning. Secondly, in terms of metadiscourse functions, “ke” is used mainly to display textual functions while “neng” to disply interpersonal functions. The conclusion suggests that the distinciton of modal functions help distinguish the similarity and ambiguity of modal meanings. On the other hand, in disciplinary communities, textual function was the most frequently occurring metadiscourse feature in the two disciplines. However, in terms of the interpersonal function, biomedical engineering uses more suggestion and prediction and the least hedges, while college of liberal arts uses more hedges and the least prediction. As for the functions identified in conventional context of dissertations, contexts in biomedical engineering have clear correspondence to the feature of meatdiscourse function; however, the college of liberal arts prefers using inferences in all chapters. The result shows that the distribution of modals is highly relavant to the conventional contexts, but the degree varies according to disciplinary variation and writing principles. In conclusion, the conventional context and sentence patterns of these two modal verbs are generalised in Chinese academic writing. The present study also collects the sentence patterns in hope to enhance the students' writing skills and enable them to express authentically as native Chinese.
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