Title: A corpus-based analysis of root meaning expressed by 'should', 'ought to' and 'be supposed to' in late 20th century British English.
Authors: Verhulst, An; M0221194
Issue Date: 26-Jun-2012
Abstract: The thesis proposes a detailed analysis of root necessity meanings expressed by should, ought to and be supposed to in late 20th-century British English and puts forward a theoreticalapparatus for the analysis of the meanings of these verbs that is applied in a corpus-based study. Root necessity is the expression of the needfor some situation to actualise, because of someone’s desire for it to happen or because particular circumstances or some rule force you to make it happen. For instance, in We were supposed to go out with Eric and John the necessity to go out exists because of an arrangement. The theoretical part concerns a study of 4 notions that play an important role in the study of root necessity meanings: temporal information, the source of the necessity, subjectivity and strength.I offer a framework that allows us to determine which factors play a role in the communication of temporal information in root necessity examples. In sentences with a modal auxiliary we can distinguish between the modal meaning (M) and the situation expressed by the infinitival clause (R). In addition, there is a temporal relation of anteriority, simultaneity or posteriority between M and R, as in examples (1), (2) and (3), respectively.(1) Does anyone knowwhat this update is supposed to have done? (‘What is itthat is necessary for this update to have done?’)(2) She was crying about her first born, who ought to be here, at the party. (‘It is necessary for my first born to be here now (but he’s not)’)(3) I think I should read this letter to the meeting. (‘It is necessary for me to read this letter at some future moment’)The corpus data reveal that a distinction has to be made between sentences expressing general necessity (e.g. (4)), and those expressing specific necessity (e.g. (1-3)). While in theexamples in (1-3) the necessity is restricted to a particular moment intime, in (4) the necessity has a broader timeframe as it is valid in the present, past and future.(4) The police are supposed to uphold justice. (‘It is necessary for the police to uphold justice at all times’)I make a further distinction betweencounterfactual (CF) and non-CF sentences. A CF sentence expresses that R did not actualise in reality, as in (2). The discussion of the temporal structures of CF and non-CF sentences with a present or perfect infinitive can be summed up in three main observations. First, with should and ought to M is always situated in the present, while with be supposed to M may be past. For instance, (5) can be paraphrased as ‘it was necessary for you to do your homework’.(5) [mother to child] You were supposed to do your homework.Second, the perfect infinitive has a temporal function in non-CF sentences, as in (1), while it functions to express speaker distance (from reality) in CF sentences. For instance, (6) can be paraphrased as ‘It is necessary for me to be sleeping now (but I’m not)’.(6) I should have been sleeping now but I keep thinking about that e-mail.Third, in examples with a present infinitive there is often simultaneity in CF sentences, as in (2), while in non-CF sentences there is usually posteriority, as in (3). Strength, source and subjectivity are crucial concepts in the field of root necessity but the literature contains contradictory claims about the subjective nature and strength of should, ought to and be supposed to , which is due to the fact that definitions of these concepts are often rather vague. The dissertation offers a framework that can be used to analyse the nature of ‘strong’ or ‘subjective’ necessity. Three degrees of subjectivity can be associated with the source that lies at the origin of the necessity. First, in subjective necessity the source is discourse-internal (i.e. it is part of the discourse and may be the speaker, addressee or another discourse-participant). Subjective necessity can be further categorised into three types, the defining criterion being the party that is meant to benefit from fulfilment of the necessity. This may be the discourse-internal source (type A), someone else than the discourse-internal source (type B) or no onein particular (type C). Second, with objective necessity the source is discourse-external (circumstances, a rule or a condition). Finally, withintersubjective necessity the source is mixed (a combination of a discourse-internal and discourse-external source). Further, I have defined strength as the likelihood of actualisation of the situation that is said to be necessary. I distinguish between three degrees of strength, the main criteria being (a) the impossibility of not complying with the necessity and (b) the impact of potential consequences of non-fulfilment. For instance, if not complying with the necessity affects one’s health, safety or finances the necessity will be considered strong. If there are no such consequences, the necessity is considered weak, except if the source has authority over the addressee (as in (5)) or if R expresses an essential characteristic of the subject (as in (4)). In that case, the strength of the necessity is said to be intermediate. Finally, the thesis offers a description of the contemporary uses of should , ought to and be supposed to on the basis of a corpus of 1200 examples extracted from the British National Corpus. The three main criteria that determine the use of the 3 modal verbs are source, discourse context and strength. With be supposed to the source is mostly discourse-external, while with should and ought to the source is mostly discourse-internal. The difference between subjective uses of should and ought to is that with should there is an even division between subjectivity Types A, B and C, whereaswith ought to subjective examples typically belong to Type B. A second difference between should and ought to concerns their use in (non-) argumentativecontexts. While should will be preferred if there is disagreement between people, ought to is used in a harmonious context in which there is agreement between the discourse-participants. Finally, strength is less important as a distinctive criterion, since the vast majority of all examples are weak. With should the strength can be reinforced in contexts of authority, while with be supposed to examples with intermediate strength often express a characteristic that is inherent to the subject.
Description: /
Table of Contents: Introduction
1 Scope of the study
2 Corpus
Chapter 1 – Towards a taxonomy of ‘possible worlds’
1 Factual (non-modal) worlds
1.1 Subjective, objective and intersubjective factual worlds
1.2 Factuality as an epistemic non-modal value
2 Non-factual (modal) worlds
2.1 Epistemic modal worlds
2.1.1 Epistemic necessity judgements
2.1.2 Counterfactual worlds
2.2 Root modal worlds
2.2.1 Common subclassifications of root necessity
2.2.2 Discourse-internal and discourse-external sources in root necessity expressed by 'should', 'ought to' and 'be supposed to'
2.3 A case study of modal worlds in sentences with 'be supposed to'
3 Summary
Chapter 2 – Temporal information and counterfactual meaning
1 General root necessity with 'should', 'ought to' and 'be supposed to'
2 Non-counterfactual specific root necessity with 'should', 'ought to' and 'be supposed to'
2.1 Modal + perfect infinitive
2.2 Modal + non-progressive present infinitive
2.2.1 Homogeneity of the residue situation
2.2.2 Future time adverbials
2.2.3 A special case: ‘hedged performatives’
2.3 Modal + progressive present infinitive
2.4 Terminological remarks
2.4.1 The feature of homogeneity
2.4.2 The nature of the temporal relation
2.5 Interim summary
3 Counterfactual specific root necessity with 'should', 'ought to' and 'be supposed to'
3.1 Modal + perfect infinitive
3.1.1 The role of past time markers in creating counterfactual meaning
3.1.2 CF sentences with 'should', 'ought to', 'be supposed to' + perfect infinitive The perfect infinitive as a formal expression of negative epistemic stance Temporal structure
3.2 Modal + present infinitive
3.2.1 CF sentences with 'should' and 'ought to' + present infinitive The different discourse functions of CF and non-CF sentences with a present infinitive Temporal structure
3.2.2 CF sentences with 'be supposed to' + present infinitive Sentences in which R is simultaneous with a past/present M Sentences in which R is posterior to a past M
3.3 Interim summary
3.4 The negative connotation of 'be supposed to'
4 Summary
Chapter 3 – Source, subjectivity and strength as defining features of root necessity
1 Source in root necessity
2 Subjectivity in root necessity
2.1 Subjectivity in the literature: speaker involvement, performativity, agentivity and scope
2.1.1 Speaker involvement
2.1.2 Performativity
2.1.3 Agentivity
2.1.4 Scope of the modal meaning
2.2 Subjectivity as a cline
2.3 Linguistic markers of subjectivity
2.3.1 A test for subjectivity in sentences expressing root necessity
2.3.2 Contextual clues of subjectivity in root necessity
2.3.3 Two strategies to cover up subjectivity in sentences expressing root necessity
3 Strength in root necessity
3.1 Observations about strength in the literature
3.1.1 Semantic and pragmatic strength
3.1.2 Criteria for semantic strength of root necessity
3.2 An alternative view of strength in root necessity
3.3 Linguistic markers mitigating or reinforcing the strength of the necessity
4 Summary
Chapter 4 – A discourse-based analysis of the role of source, subjectivity and strength in the use of root 'should', 'ought to' and 'be supposed to'
1 Source and strength as defining features of discourse functions of root necessity markers
2 A comparative discussion of sources
2.1 The distribution of discourse-internal and discourse-external sources in CF and non-CF data
2.2 Discourse-internal sources
2.2.1 General quantitative results
2.2.2 Discourse-internal sources with 'should'
2.2.3 Discourse-internal sources with 'ought to'
2.2.4 Discourse-internal sources with 'be supposed to'
2.3 Discourse-external sources
2.3.1 General quantitative results
2.3.2 Discourse-external sources with 'should' and 'ought to' Rules and regulations with 'should' and 'ought to' Circumstantial necessity with 'should' and 'ought to'
2.3.3 Discourse-external sources with 'be supposed to' Rules and regulations with 'be supposed to' Circumstantial necessity with 'be supposed to'
2.4 Mixed sources
2.5 Interim summary
3 The role of (dis)agreement in the use of 'should' and 'ought to'
3.1 Two types of context for 'should' vs. 'ought to' (Myhill 1997)
3.2 The argumentative nature of 'should'
3.3 The harmonious nature of 'ought to'
3.4 The descriptive findings of the role of (dis)agreement in the use of 'should' and 'ought to'
3.5 Interim summary
4 The role of strength
4.1 General quantitative results
4.2 Strength of root necessity with 'be supposed to'
4.3 Strength of root necessity with 'should'
4.4 Strength of root necessity with 'ought to'
4.5 Interim summary
5 Analysing root necessity meaning: a novel account
6 Summary and conclusion
Publication status: published
KU Leuven publication type: TH
Appears in Collections:Functional and Cognitive Linguistics: Grammar and Typology (FunC), Leuven
Faculty of Arts, Campus Kulak Kortrijk

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