Modal verbs in the writing of English undergraduates: A corpus perspective

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Abstract

Although modals have been central to language analysis, very few studies have focused on the written production of Brazilian advanced EFL students by means of corpus analysis. The present study contrasts the use of modal verbs in the writing of Brazilian EFL undergraduates and that of American and British university students whose first language is English. As far as the data is concerned, two corpora are probed with the help of a computer tool. The research corpus consists of a sample of the Brazilian Portuguese Sub-corpus of the International Corpus of Learner English (Br-ICLE), while the reference corpus corresponds to a section of the Louvain Corpus of Native English Essays (LOCNESS). Following a statistical approach to data treatment, the study focuses on the frequency of central modal verbs (Biber et al., 1999), namely, 'can', 'could', 'may', 'might', 'must', 'shall', 'should', 'will' and 'would'. The results indicate that Brazilian EFL undergraduates use significantly fewer modal verbs than their American and British counterparts. It is then argued that this reduced frequency of modals in Brazilian writing may make it sound more direct and assertive when compared to that of speakers of English as a first language. From a general perspective, the present study may contribute to a reassessment of English teaching in the Brazilian setting.
Translated title of the contributionModal verbs in the writing of English undergraduates: A corpus perspective
Original languagePortuguese
Title of host publicationLinguagem, criatividade e ensino
Subtitle of host publicationAbordagens empíricas e interdisciplinares
EditorsSonia Zyngier, Vander Viana, Juliana Jandre
Place of PublicationRio de Janeiro
PublisherPublit
Pages49-77
ISBN (Print)8577732096
Publication statusPublished - 31 Dec 2009

Keywords

  • Modal verbs
  • English language
  • Argumentative writing
  • University education
  • English as a foreign language
  • Corpus linguistics

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