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Internet interpersonal functions of Chinese modals.
Modality denotes opinion or attitude concerned with logic of possibility or necessity. Its operation at interpersonal levels has been documented in literature on western languages. However, thus far comparatively little attention has been paid to the pragmatic functions of modal markers in Chinese. This study aims to investigate modal use in authentic interactions of Chinese internet communities. Results show that Chinese modal elements function as important politeness devices in the head act of online request, omnipresent in strategies such as Request Compliance, Inquire Ability/Volition, State Wish, Inquire Action, and Inquire Permission. Exclusively prevalent are modals of epistemic possibility (i.e. neng ‘can’ and keyi ‘can’) and modals of deontic necessity (i.e. yao ‘must’). The social status and specificity of potential requestees also have immediate consequence on the degree of politeness as well as the frequency and type of modal application. The distribution and occurrence of modal markers in computer-mediated communication have developed into a pattern not so diverse as how they behave in oral interactions. This study thus suggests that the focus of research and instruction on Chinese modal systems should extend from static meaning-form analysis to dynamic sociopragmatic interpretation. The latter may offer an account of the close connection of contextual factors to language use.
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