A study of epistemic modality in academic and popularised discourse: The case of possibility adverbs perhaps, maybe and possibly


  • Elsa Pic Université Sorbonne Nouvelle
  • Grégory Furmaniak Université Sorbonne Nouvelle

Palabras clave:

perhaps, maybe, possibly, adverbs, epistemic modality, hedging, popularisation


This paper describes the use of perhaps, maybe and possibly in a cross- disciplinary corpus of academic and popularised scientific writing. It accounts for their higher frequency in popularised discourse by investigating their functions in detail. The analysis, conducted from various perspectives (syntactic, semantic, pragmatic and rhetorical), suggests that two factors are at work: the evidential basis for the epistemic assessment and the mode of discourse the marker is most closely associated with. The fact that perhaps and maybe express unsupported conjectures within explicative passages explains why they are less frequent in academic contexts where excessive recourse to ungrounded assumptions and to the explicative mode –which implies a knowledge asymmetry– would be harshly received. As for possibly, we show that its distribution depends on its interpretation. In its root meaning, it is equally fit for popularised and academic discourses. In its epistemic use, however, it is less frequent in research articles, like epistemic modals and other epistemic adverbs. Because it indicates that the epistemic assessment is based on the writer’s recognised expertise, its use is preferred in the most factual and uncontroversial modes of discourse, namely, narration and information, which are more typical of popularisation. 


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Cómo citar

Pic, E., & Furmaniak, G. (2012). A study of epistemic modality in academic and popularised discourse: The case of possibility adverbs perhaps, maybe and possibly. Revista De Lenguas Para Fines Específicos, 18, 13–44. Recuperado a partir de https://ojsspdc.ulpgc.es/ojs/index.php/LFE/article/view/35



Sección Monográfica/Special Issue