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Modal sources and modal agents in the European Parliament: : deontic modality expressed through deber ‘must’ and tener que ‘have to’
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Languages, Department of Modern Languages.ORCID iD: 0000-0003-2952-8522
2017 (English)Conference paper, Oral presentation with published abstract (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Modality is a well-studied and important domain within linguistic research, known for its elusive nature and fuzzy limits. Within this domain, several subnotions have been identified, such as possibility, permission, prohibition, volition and necessity, to name a few examples (Olbertz 1998, Nuyts 2005, Hansen & de Haan 2009). This paper focuses on the fairly understudied notion of necessity, and more specifically, on the moral necessity related to deontic modality[1] and its expression through the Spanish modal verbs deber ‘must/should’ and tener que ‘have to’. These verbs tend to be described as near synonyms (Gómez Torrego 1988; Bauman 2013), while researchers who have studied their differences frequently resort to slightly vague, intuition-based parameters such as strength of necessity and internal vs. external obligation (Fernández de Castro 1999; Müller 2005; RAE/AALE 2009).

However, new research, carried out by Thegel (2017) has reported other differences between deber and tener que, for example related to concepts such as agentivity[2] and source of the necessity[3]. While tener que tends to be used with a higher level of agentivity, deber appears frequently when the agent is omitted. As far as the source of the necessity is concerned, it has been shown that tener que usually expresses a necessity formulated by the speaker, whereas deber is the first option when the speaker refers to another source.

This paper aims to deepen the knowledge of the notions of agentivity and source of the necessity and their interaction, relating them to the concepts of agreement and disagreement. The verbs deber and tener que are studied in a political context, through a detailed qualitative analysis of interventions of Spanish MPs in the European Parliament. It will be shown that, in a discourse regarding the topics of migration and the refugee crisis, tener que frequently occurs in a context of disagreement, whereas deber functions as an expression of a shared norm, thus indicating agreement. The differences between the two verbs are exemplified in the following extracts:

(1)   Y sabemos que los países más ricos deberíamos compartir la carga que suponen los refugiados para países que tienen muchísimas dificultades. ‘And we know that we in the richer countries should share the burden that the refugees mean for countries with many difficulties’.

 

(2)   No podemos seguir con discusiones eternas y estériles […] Por favor, pónganse las pilas, cierren los acuerdos necesarios, hagan lo que tengan que hacer, porque la gente se nos está muriendo a las puertas de nuestra casa. ‘We cannot continue with eternal and sterile discussions. […]. Please pull your socks up, close the necessary deals, do what you have to do, because people are dying at our front door’.

As can be seen in (1), deber occurs when the speaker emphasizes the shared responsibility of the richer countries of the EU. The speaker acts as if this norm is known (and therefore possibly shared) by everyone, using the expression Y sabemos que ‘And we know that’. Thus, the speaker refers to a broad source of necessity, which may include the entire European Union, and which possibly coincides with the modal agent.

In contrast, in (2), the speaker expresses dissatisfaction with the agent of the necessity, in this case the European Council, which has failed to do what it, according to the speaker, has to do. In this example, there is no agreement between the modal agent and the source of the necessity, but rather a conflict.

These examples represent a major tendency, which is observed in the use of the verbs deber and tener que in political debates. Tener que usually appear when the speaker puts forward a more subjective opinion, showing disagreement and dissatisfaction with other groups or perspectives. In contrast, deber is frequently used when the speaker emphasizes the unity and the shared values of the European Union, hence occurring in contexts of agreement.

[1] Deontic modality has also been defined as “the desirability of actions” (Verstraete 2005: 1405).

[2] Agentivity refers to the aspects related to the modal agent, i.e. the person responsible for carrying out the action described as necessary.

[3] This notion refers to the person or authority formulating (verbally) the necessity.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2017.
Keywords [en]
deontic modality, modal source, modal agent, agentivity, agreement, disagreement, political discourse
National Category
Specific Languages
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-368560OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-368560DiVA, id: diva2:1268396
Conference
The XX Nordic Romanist Conference (Rom 17), 15-18 August 2017, Bergen, Norway
Available from: 2018-12-05 Created: 2018-12-05 Last updated: 2019-03-20Bibliographically approved

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https://www.uib.no/en/node/97866

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Thegel, Miriam

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