On the Expression of Modality in Old Italian


  • GIANLUCA COLELLA Dalarna University


 The notion of modality – so crucial in the study of any linguistic system as to be considered a “super category” (Nuyts, 2006) – refers to the speaker’s attitude towards the propositional content of what he/she states; in brief, it expresses the speaker’s subjectivity; in philosophical logical terms, an enunciation will be modalized if it expresses a given content in terms of possibility or necessity.A key problem, in the historical perspective, is the fact that, although the notion of modality is properly conceptual, the comparison can happen only in written language, in which the study of modality and its expressions focuses mostly on how a reasoning is structured and how it is expressed the degree of knowledge one has on a specific event. In written texts modal expressions seem to carry out a hedging strategy, a way to propose hypothesis and avoid supporting positions in an absolute way.Modality manifests through the use of various devices: modal verbs (potere, dovere, volere), verbal modes (conditional, subjunctive, future), modal particles and adverbs (certo, probabilmente, forse, chissà etc.), lexical elements differently adapted to the circumstances (è possibile che, è vietato). As known, a peculiarity of epistemic markers is their polysemy: think of the verb dovere in (1)