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On the teaching of Japanese epistemic and evidential markers: theoretical considerations and practical applications

Posted By admin On May 30, 2013 @ 1:39 pm In Abstracts for 2013, Linguistics and Language Teaching | Comments Disabled

Lars Larm, lecturer

Centre for Languages and Literature

Lund University


Applying my previous research on modality in Japanese (Larm 2009; 2012a; 2012b), the main question of this paper is: How can the theoretical study of modality guide us when developing teaching methods for Japanese epistemic and evidential modal expressions?

This paper starts with a discussion of the involved nature of modal expressions and the challenges facing us when trying to explain their meanings. Firstly, there is the problem of contextual versatility, of which the most representative example is the epistemic particle daroo. Its meaning is highly context dependent, as shown below:

(1) Eri wa tabun ik-u daroo. Eri TOP perhaps go-NPAST CONJ ‘Perhaps Eri will go.’

(2) Eri wa kitto ik-u daroo. Eri TOP surelygo-NPAST CONJ ‘Surely Eri will go.’

(3) Eri wa ik-u daroo? Eri TOP go-NPAST CONJ ‘Eri will go, won’t she?’

(4) Eri wa nante kirei na no daroo! Eri TOP how beautiful COP NOM CONJ ‘How beautiful Eri is!’

The flexibility of daroo is discussed by Akatsuka (1990), who advises against using translations such as ‘probably’ when explaining its meaning to students. She states (1990: 68):

[. . .] daroo shares its semantic domain, at least partially, with English will, would, and must. According to our

1analysis, to teach that daroo means ‘probably’ is just as inadequate as it would be to teach that these three auxiliaries mean ‘probably’.

The second challenge concerns the descriptive ineffability of some modals. The question is if it is possible to explain succinctly and exhaustively the meanings of expressions such as daroo, yooda, rashii, mitaida, or the differences between them. In my experience, the finer semantic and pragmatic details of such markers are difficult to describe in words, not only for native speakers but also for scholars working on modality.

Given the elusive nature of modals, I argue that the focus of teaching should be on the formal linguistic structures rather than on meaning and usage. The awareness of modals can be raised by systematically introducing the set of epistemic and evidential markers and by explicitly teaching their morphological and syntactic properties. The increased level of awareness, in turn, facilitates learning outside the grammar class, as students start noticing modals in a variety of different usages. Important notions here are ‘awareness’, and ‘noticing’, which figure in discussions on second language acquisition (see, for example, Schmidt 1995). I also suggest that the teaching of modals should be systematically linked to research on adverb-modal collocations. For example, the epistemic kamoshirenai can occur in harmony with the adverb hyottoshitara ‘possibly’, as in (5), and the evidential yooda with dooyara ‘apparently’, as in (6) (Larm 2012b):

(5) Hyottoshitara kare wa kuru kamoshirena-i. possibly he TOP come.NPAST SPEC-NPAST ‘There is a chance that he will come.’

(6) Dooyara hare-soo da. apparently clear up-SENSEV COP.NPAST ‘It looks as if the weather is going to clear up.’

In Larm (2012b), I stated that “by shifting the attention from the grammaticalised modal markers themselves to their possible combinations with modal adverbs [. . .] we can get a grip of their


meaning.” In this work, my aim was to contribute to the discussion of modal concord from a descriptive and theoretical point of view, but the insights can be applied to the teaching of modals as well. This approach is in line with, and inspired by, Hoye’s (1997) work on modal-adverb combinations in English and his suggestions about the teaching of English modal expressions.

Further examples, as well as multiple-choice exercises used in the grammar classes for first year undergraduate students at Lund University, will be given in the talk.


Akatsuka, N. (1990). On the meaning of daroo. In Kamada, O. & Jacobsen W.M. (eds), On Japanese and how to teach it. Tokyo: The Japan Times. 67−75.

Hoye, L. (1997). Adverbs and modality in English. Longman: London and New York.

Larm, L. (2012a). Modality packaging from a Japanese perspective.

Proceedings of the Modality Workshop [funded]via Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research: Semantic and Pragmatic Study of Modality.

Larm, L. (2012b). Modal concord in Japanese: some initial observations. Proceedings of the 14th Conference of the Pragmatics Society of Japan.

Larm, L. (2009). West meets East: a Kindaichian approach to subjective modality. In Pizziconi, B & Kizu, M. (eds), Japanese modality: exploring its scope and interpretation. Palgrave Macmillan. 56−86.

Schmidt, R. (1995). Consciousness and foreign language learning: A tutorial on attention and awareness in learning. In Schmidt, R. (ed.), Attention and awareness in foreign language learning. Honolulu, HI: University of Hawai`i, National Foreign Language Resource Center. 1−63.

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