ELTE BTK Magyar Nyelvtudományi és Finnugor Intézet

Jaakola, Minna – Seppänen, Eeva-Leena (Helsinki)

nyomtatható változat

Epistemic modality and interaction – on the meaning of the Finnish modal particles ehkä and kai  

This paper discusses the meaning of the Finnish epistemic modal particles ehkä (roughly: ‘perhaps’), kai (roughly: ‘maybe’) and varmaan(kin) (roughly: ‘for sure’, ‘certainly’) in two different contexts, face-to-face everyday interaction  and  electronically mediated conversations, mainly in the Internet. We aim  to shed light on the interpretations of epistemic modalities  in contexts, where it is possible to concentrate on interaction and the role of the recipient(s) in meaning-making.

Grammars and coursebooks of semantics usually deal with epistemic modality as connected to the speaker and to the relationship between the speaker and the state of affairs expressed by the utterance: modal particles and other epistemic elements express the speaker’s view on  how true or certain the proposition expressed by the utterance is. The modal particles ehkä, kai and varmaan(kin) are quite commonly used as examples of elements by which the speaker expresses the state of affairs as something that is possible but not sure. On the other hand, as for modal elements in general,  they typically create an alternative possible world besides the actual world spoken about, that is, they create polyphony.

However, the most recent grammar of Finnish, Iso suomen kielioppi (Hakulinen & al. 2004: 1519), also notes  the more interactive meaning of these particles: statements that contain a modal particle expressing uncertainty can in certain situations be taken as questions. (For example Ruoan kanssa te kai juotte viiniä? ’with food you’ll maybe have some wine?’) In this paper, we will approach this aspect of the meaning of the modal particles more closely. How are the particles expressing uncertainty used to regulate interaction and create different actions? In which way does asking questions become part of their meaning, and what other functions do they have in regulating participation and the role of the recipient(s)? And further, in what types  of interactional actions do these particles occur, and what is their role in building up the ongoing activities?

In a larger perspective, we will study the intersubjectivity in grammar by focusing on modal particles. We follow the idea of participation in conversation in the sense of  C. and M. H. Goodwin (see C. Goodwin 2007; C. and M.H. Goodwin 2010) who base their thinking on  Goffman (1981) and Volosinov (1973). According to Goodwin (2007: 45), it is possible to see participation in a framework where the speaker is no longer positioned as the locus of all semiotic activity. Instead, in communication, participants shape their utterances collaboratively as meaningful locally relevant action within a multi-party, interactively sustained, embodied field. We trust that in studying collaborative meaning-making of this kind, it is relevant to pay attention to the indexical elements of language by which speakers and writers  organize common ground or context, and regulate both their own and the recipient’s role in the situation.

Goffman, E. 1981. Forms of Talk. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
Goodwin, C. 2007. Interactive Footing. In Reporting Talk. Reported speech in interaction, E. Holt & R. Clift (eds.), 16-46. Cambridge: CUP.
Goodwin, C. & Goodwin, M.H. 2010. Participation. Prepared for A Companion to Linguistic Anthropology, A. Duranti (ed.). Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
Hakulinen, A., Vilkuna, M., Korhonen, R., Koivisto, V., Heinonen, T. & Alho, I. 2004. Iso suomen kielioppi. (The Comprehensive Grammar of Finnish). Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura.
Volosinov, V.N. 1986. [1929]. Marxism and the Philosophy of Language. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

The paper will be given in English.