Modal Verbs in Sustainability Reports by the University of Cambridge and the University of Oxford
Comparing Discursive Practices
Keywords:a corpus-assisted study, higher education institutions (HEIs), micro-linguistic means, modal verbs, sustainability discourse
This article presents and discusses a study on modal verbs in sustainability reports that are communicated online by the University of Cambridge (UC) and the University of Oxford (UO) in the United Kingdom. The study is based upon a contention proposed by Fløttum (2010), who posits that modal verbs are used in sustainability discourse as micro-linguistic means that are involved in a range of pragma-communicative strategies. Following Fløttum (2010), the present study seeks i) to establish the frequency of the occurrence of the so-called “central” modal verbs, i.e. can/could, may/might, must, shall/should, and will/would and ii) to identify their involvement in the programa-communicative strategies in the sustainability reports by UC and UO. The sustainability reports by UC and UO were analysed in the computer program AntConc version 4.0.11 (Anthony, 2022) in order to compute the frequency of the central modal verbs. Thereafter, they were analysed qualitatively to establish their relationship with a range of pragma-communicative strategies that were employed in the sustainability reports by UC and UO, respectively. The quantitative computer-assisted analysis indicated that can and will were the most frequent modal verbs in the UC’s and UO’s sustainability reports. However, the qualitative investigation demonstrated that can and will were associated with different pragma-communicative strategies in the reports. The findings were further discussed in the article.
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