Modality and Reality: The value of speech in context


  • Marianne Mithun University of California, Santa Barbara

Mots-clés :

modality, irrealis, Mohawk, speech in use


A central challenge for work on modality is delineating the domain and the categories within it, due in

part to the fact that both are constantly evolving. Our understanding of possible systems and their

components can thus be enhanced by learning more about how they develop through time. Because

modality distinctions play major roles in social interaction, examination of spontaneous interactive

speech can be particularly useful for uncovering the steps by which markers can progress and the

motivations behind them. One longstanding puzzle has been whether irrealis distinctions should be

included within modality. Here some reasons behind the dilemma are explored by tracing developments

of an irrealis category in Northern Iroquoian languages, exemplified by Mohawk (Kanien'kéha'). The

examination of speech in use, coupled with insights from speakers, provides clues to likely pathways of

development and the discourse and social contexts facilitating them.




Comment citer

Mithun, M. (2024). Modality and Reality: The value of speech in context. Travaux neuchâtelois De Linguistique, 79, 5–20. Consulté à l’adresse



Numéro thématique complet