How modality may function in some early issues of the Philosophical Transactions


  • David Banks Université de Bretagne Occidentale



modal auxiliaries, modality (epistemic, dynamic, deontic), Philosophical Transactions, scientific


The Philosophical Transactions was founded by Henry Oldenburg in 1665. The contents of the journal were based on his correspondence, and initially consisted of extracts from the many letters he received. The scope of the journal was that of “natural philosophy”, or science and technology in contemporary terms. The linguistic features of its early issues are of particular interest. Among these is that of modality. A previous study indicated that the most common form used to express modality is that of the modal auxiliaries, and the most frequent auxiliaries are may and will. The type of modality that is most commonly expressed is dynamic. Study of an enlarged sample confirms the dominance of auxiliaries but the specific auxiliaries used vary from issue to issue. It also confirms the dominance of dynamic modality. This is consistent with the focus on physical observation and experiment which was adopted by the Royal Society.


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