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 Thursday, April 26 2018 7:39am Hongkong Time

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More uncertainty ahead

As an argumentative essay occurring in the Economist, the author seems to have surprisingly little trust in his very advanced readers. With words like "central bank", "allocate", "set through", and "believe passionately" (see previous sections), I am inclined to believe that not only the author is not a free-market advocate but he is also one conservative writer who believes in the control of the economy through central banks (ok, I don't have any problems with conservative writers – for I consider myself one too – but I think there is just no harm admitting, right?). Given that good writing style should be in line with the type of genre in terms of the field, tenor and mode (Halliday & Hasan, 1989), the author's arguments should be knowledgeable, informative and closely related, tone be clear and objective, and stance be firm and consistent throughout his linguistic choice in the text.

Yet from the proportion of modality use that occurred in the text, I found just quite the opposite.

Tables 6a and 6b listed all occurrences of the use of modals in the text. It can be seen immediately that epistemic modality is the majority. Had the writer been so clear about his standpoints, arguments and suggestions, he would have used a more determined tone (ok, I have to admit that he may just be trying to be polite) – especially when he may well be a conservative supporter of central banks. And in which case, deontic and dynamic modality could possibly have prevailed [8].

Deontic, dynamic modals and semi-modals Type of modality
... central banks can and should do more to counteract bubbles ... Dynamic: ability and Deontic: obligaton/advice
In moral terms, central banks and governments have to intervene when ... Deontic: obligaton/advice

Table 6a. Deontic and dynamic modals and semi-modals from the Buttonwood text

Epistemic modals and semi-modals Type of modality
Bureaucrats and politicians would never have enough information to allocate ... Epistemic: condition
This apparent contradiction can be resolved because financial markets do not operate in the same way as those for other goods and services. Epistemic: potential
Our desire for them may be driven by fashion or a desire to enhance our status. Epistemic: probability
Such goods may be means to an end but ... Epistemic: probability
They (investors) will not rush to take advantage of the sale. Epistemic: prediction
Surely there are rational investors who can profit from ... Epistemic: potential
... people now accept that bubbles in asset markets can exist. Epistemic: potential
Individual speculators may lose from the resulting bust but society gains from their overoptimistic investments. Epistemic: probability
... the central banker who did so would get an enormous amount of criticism. Epistemic: probability
... politicians would have accused him or her of undermining American's right to own a house and investors of stalling the economy. Epistemic: condition
... otherwise he or she (central bank president) might find it difficult to be nominated for a second term. Epistemic: probability
People can learn valuable lessons when stockmarket bubbles burst. Epistemic: potential
Recent lessons may well change attitudes and investment approaches ... Epistemic: probability
Which investment bank is going to raise its leverage ratio to ... Epistemic: probability
Who would now invest in a dotcom stock without a solid business plan ... Epistemic: probability

Table 6b. Epistemic modals and semi-modals from the Buttonwood text

Could never have...

Theoretically speaking, grammatical or function words are "purely in terms of grammar" (Ure, 1971, p.445) and contain no content whereas the work of carrying the meaning is the responsibility of words with lexical properties, or content words (Breeder, et al., 1986; Stubbs, 1986, 2002). However, modal verbs, while also being a type of grammatical words, help greatly in reflecting the author's attitude (Palmer, 1990; Green, et al., 2009; Huddleston & Pullum, 2006) toward the subject discussed – and the verb phrase "could never have", as in "A government could never have made a success of an iPod, iPhone, or iPad, whereas Steve Jobs at Apple was able to anticipate...", is an excellent example of this.

A search with the corpus (Table 7) suggests that the verb phrase "could never have" has the semantic prosody as in "something being long wished for is now made possible as a result of someone helping or some events happening". Knowing this, the author could well have misunderstood the meaning of the verb phrase because he continued the sentence with a contrasting idea when he wrote: "whereas Steve Jobs was able to anticipate the demand for such hand-held devices". At this point, we can hardly believe if he was trying to be stylistic with his command of language. What more important is that the mistake actually betrayed the author subconsciously and revealed his true belief about "the central bank and the planned economy" right from the start of the text.

British National Corpus (NBC) results on "could never have"
A18 224 Raskolnikov could never have said that – which introduces the deeper issues involved in the switch from first-person to a nominal thirdperson narrative.

A1B 1714 This is what Pound could never have said.

A1M 147 Genetic engineering has reached a point of such sophistication that there are clear benefits to be gained by releasing from the laboratory living organisms upon which have been conferred characteristics they could never have acquired through the normal processes of evolution or selective breeding.

A7L 1179 An iconoclast such as Anderson could never have settled into directing films about mummies, werewolves and vampires, and Hammer was too much a market-led company to encourage fresh approaches to the monstrous.

ABL 693 The eyes alone could never have given me so profound a sense of Spring, of Maytime and the blossoming of hawthorn upon the heaths and wild cherry at the border of the beech copses.

ADP 2027 There I had the idea of the kind of sound you could never have in the concerthall, a sound that exists only in the imagination and in the new kind of acoustic reality we were able to create through the recording itself.

ADR 359 With mum Carol's heritage it could never have been any other way – her roots, after all, lay thousands of miles away in Wales, the Land of Song.

AHK 954 Carl Llewellyn, 26, was having his third ride in the Grand National and could never have hoped for a better experience around the huge Aintree fences.

AKM 816 Advances in electronic and micro processors enabling fuel to be delivered in the right quantity and at the optimum time in the combustion process now allow an efficiency to be achieved that Dr Rudolf Diesel could never have dreamed of in 1892.

B7K 340 Without Western aid, it could never have been launched.

CBG 9288 But he admits: 'I could never have envisaged the the way things have worked out for me.'

CD3 486 The best refutation of this is given by Olivia Bland: '...such a cataclysmic event could never have been hushed up and yet, it does not appear in any of the other memoirs of the time.

CES 512 Without water-power we could never have afforded to heat the place.

J25 226 And the feeling persists that Guinness ads are undoubtedly different, separate from the rest of the herd.

CFB 1326 It could never have opened without generous fund-raisers.

CKR 944 This was of course extremely generous, but he extended his generosity to no other local saint after the first archbishop St Augustine, whom he could never have excluded.

CR9 635 He may have concluded after he turned 40 that his career could never have the same impetus.

EBP 127 But the line could never have been held in south-west France without the active collaboration and support of its inhabitants.

FAG 1399 The East Somerset line later taken over by the Great Western Railway could never have made a profit.

FNT 2945 It was not a matter of 'if only...', but rather a nostalgia for a different, a parallel plane of existence, a nostalgia for a future she could never have lived.

FSE 653 There was a subtle difference which Anglic could never have expressed.

FU4 538 JERVIS:[reprovingly] I could never have thought that the son of my dear good lady departed could have so forfeited his honour as to endeavour to destroy a virtue he ought to protect.

G0E 3257 But he recognised the abominably shredded and mutated head, and the bloodstained and distorted arms that ended in claws which could never have been human.

GW9 204 From all that he heard, it was clear that Gaddafi's position had been secured for him in a way that his palace guard and secret police could never have managed on their own.

GWH 1263 And I told Heathcliff to his face that he could never have made Catherine happy, if she had been his wife.

Table 7. Concordance lines for "could never have"

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Note 8: See Johansson (1999) and Wolfe-Quintero, et al. (1998) on noun and modal density.



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COUNT ON THE STATISTICS  100% Towels (c) Daniel Chittka
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This new section contains some interesting statistics in bribe and corruption, please check back for more as we pile up our numbers!

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