Grammar Writing: In the Mood

I’ve spent quite a bit of time re-reading bits of The Oxford Handbook of Modality and Mood, and it was definitely worth it. To be honest, I’d more or less forgotten that I had a copy, until I started looking for sources to compare against Bybee et al.

The Oxford Handbook series takes the same approach as many typology books, and brings together chapters by different authors, which is both a strength and a weekend. The most useful section for my purposes is Part III, Sketches of Modality and Mood systems, which gives overviews of mood in Iroquoian, Chadic, Sinitic, Oceanic, and European languages, and despite the fact they appear in the same volume they don’t share that much in the way of structure.

The good news is that all the chapters seem able to work with the broad typology of modality described in this post. Marianne Mithun refines the modal typology slightly as follows (with some merging of multiple diagrams by yours truly):

  • Event modality
    • Dynamic (= agent-oriented)
      • Participant-internal source
      • Participant-external source
    • Deontic (= speaker-oriented)
  • Propositional modality
    • Epistemic
    • Evidentiality

The major changes compared to the flatter typology I presented before are the grouping of dynamic and deontic against epistemic modality, the split of dynamic depending on whether the circumstances affecting the ability of the agent are internal or external, and the additional of evidentiality. The classification of evidentiality as mood is controversial, although it seems logical given its close links with epistemic distinctions.

Moving to the wider question, there doesn’t seem to be any consensus at all about how to integrate speech acts/sentence types, inflectional mood, and wider modality into a coherent typology. The best chapter by far, in my opinion, is the one by Marianne Mithun on Iroquoian, which flows roughly as follows:

  1. Overview of inflectional mood
    • Use to mark sentence types
    • Use to mark realis ~ irrealis and modality distinctions
  2. Functional overview of modality
  3. Phonological development of modal forms
  4. Semantic development of modal forms

The first sections have a rough top-down structure, moving from more general to more fine grained modal distinctions in a systematic way, whereas the later seconds explore some of the semantic overlaps and their history.

The other seconds, by contrast, are feel a bit more of an unstructured info-dump:

  • The Chadic chapter inserts a discussion of sentence types into the middle of a long list of modality types, with no obvious reason for the chosen ordering
  • The Sinitic chapter does modality then sentence types, which does at least group like with like, but in general reads less well than Mithun’s chapter
  • The Oceanic and European chapters basically ignore sentence types and go for the long-list-of-categories-with-no-motivating order format

The handbook has definitely helped me think about how to structure this topic, but I’ll come back to that in my next post.