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Pragmatics of modals

When used in conversational interaction, modal verbs may take on special functions in speech acts such as granting permission, giving directives, making promises and expressing wishes, thereby bringing about change in the pragmatic relationship between speaker and addressee. Thus ‘volition’ and ‘prediction’ may be used to express a personal commitment, as in:

a. Ek wíl vandag die prys wen!
I want.to.AUX.MOD today the prize win.INF
I want to win the prize today!
b. Ons sál die oorwinning behaal!
we will.AUX.MOD the victory attain.INF
We shall be victorious!

‘Possibility’ ascribed to the addressee may become an invitation:

Julle kan gerus van die toebroodjies kry.
you.2PL can.AUX.MOD freely of the sandwiches get.INF
You are free to have some sandwiches.

‘Permission’ is expressed by:

U kan maar die vergadering verdaag.
you.2SG.HON can.AUX.MOD in.fact the meeting adjourn.INF
You may adjourn the meeting.

Questioned ‘ability’ may form part of a request:

a. Kan jy asseblief die sout aangee?
can.AUX.MOD you.2SG please the salt pass.INF
Could you please pass the salt?
b. Kan ek sommer saam met jou ry?
can.AUX.MOD I just together with you.2SG ride.INF
Could I perhaps get a lift with you?
I. Roggeband: Noot, 2013, 145
c. Kan ek vir jou iets kry om te drink?
can.AUX.MOD I for you.2SG something get.INF for.COMP PTCL.INF drink.INF
Can I get you something to drink?
I. Roggeband: Noot, 2013, 79

Requests and other speech acts are mitigated by the preterite form kon could, as in:

a. Kon ek dalk vanmiddag 'n bietjie vroeër gaan?
can.AUX.MOD.PRT I perhaps this.afternoon a little earlier go.INF
Could I perhaps leave a little earlier this afternoon?
b. Jy kon maar saamneem wat nie gebruik is nie.
you.2SG can.AUX.MOD.PRT freely with.take.INF what.REL not use.PST.PTCP be.AUX.PASS.PST PTCL.NEG
You could take with you what hasn’t been used.

Moet must may constitute a command (6a) and moenie must.not.AUX.MOD a request or prohibition (6b) if directed at the addressee, as in:

a. Jy moet jou sokkies optrek!
you.2SG must.AUX.MOD your socks up.pull.INF
You must get your act together!’
b. Julle moenie daardie deur gebruik nie!
you.2PL must.not.AUX.MOD that door use.INF PTCL.NEG
Don't use that door!

If the speaker wishes to cancel or relax the necessity of the action, hoef ... te need may be used, as in:

Julle hoef nie die vergadering by te woon nie.
you2.PL need.AUX.MOD PTCL.NEG the meeting at PTCL.INF attend.INF PTCL.NEG
You needn’t attend the meeting.

A prediction can become a promise, as in:

Ek sal môre die inbetaling doen.
I will.AUX.MOD tomorrow the deposit do.INF
I’ll make the deposit tomorrow.

If a future action is foisted on the addressee as if it were a certainty, the result may be as forceful as a command. This interpretation is ensured by adding emphasis to sal.

a. Jy sál die deur sluit!
you.2PL shall.AUX.MOD the door lock.INF
You shall lock the door!
b. Hy sál uit sy bed uit en hy sál hier onder saam met my kuier.
he shall.MOD out his bed out.POSTP and he shall.AUX.MOD here below together with me chat.INF
He shall get out of his bed and he shall keep me company down here.
F. Bloemhof:, Doodskoot, 2016, 210

Sal, also mitigated by the preterite sou, would serve as a polite request:

a. Sal jy asseblief die deur sluit?
will.AUX.MOD you.2SG please the door lock.INF
Will you please lock the door?
b. Sou jy dalk vir verkiesing beskikbaar wees?
shall.AUX.MOD.PRT you.2SG perhaps for election available be.INF
Would you perhaps be available for election?

Mag may and moet must are employed in wishes, the latter more colloquially:

a. Mag julle van krag tot krag gaan!
may.AUX.MOD you2.PL from strength to strength go.INF
May you go from strength to strength!
b. Julle moet mooi ry!
you.2PL must.AUX.MOD nicely drive
Have a good trip!

Modal verbs take on new meanings when when used in speech acts. Speech acts go beyond the mere exchange of information and have pragmatic implications for the speaker or addressee or the relation between them. 

The expression of ‘will’ may become  a ‘commitment’ even when directed by the speaker at him-/herself:

a. Ek wíl vandag die prys wen!
I will.AUX.MOD today the prize win.INF
I shall win the prize today!

'Will’ may be projected on an addressee, as in the case of a sculptor about to destroy a bust he has made in anger:

Maar hoor hier, jy wil nie regtig hierdie borsbeeld beskadig nie!”
but.CNJ listen.IMP here you.2SG want.to.AUX.MOD not really this bust damage.INF PTCL.NEG
Listen to me now: you don’t really want to damage this bust!
M. Heese: Maestro, 2016, 430

Wil is used in a polite request, as in (14a), mitigated by the negative without a change of meaning, as in (14b).

a. Wil jy asseblief die skinkbord neem?
will.AUX.MOD you.2SG please the tray take.INF
Will you please take the tray?
b. Wil jy nie asseblief die skinkbord neem nie?
will.AUX.MOD you2.SG not please the tray take.INF PTCL.NEG
Won’t you please take the tray?

If a host insists on the ‘possibility’ of extending a visit, this may count as an ‘invitation’:

Julle kan gerus nog 'n bietjie langer kuier!
you.2PL can.AUX.MOD surely even a little longer visit.INF
Surely you can stay a little longer!

Informing the addressee that there is no objection to an action envisaged by him/her is tantamount to granting ‘permission’ (16a) or may even be a threat (16b):

a. Elsie, jy kan daardie vir jou vat as jy dit wil hê.
Elsie you.2SG can.AUX.MOD that for you.2SG take.INF if.CNJ you.2SG it want.to.AUX.MOD have.INF
Elsie, you may have that if you want it.
b. Julle kan maar uitkom, ons sal julle tog kry.”
you.2PL can.AUX.MOD freely out.come.INF we will.AUX.MOD you.2PL anyway get.INF
You may come out now;  we will find you anyway.
H. du Plessis: As die wind, 2013, 208

By suggesting a certain readiness to perform an action the speaker may be offering to perform the action:

Ons kan die onderdeel vir u bestel.
we can.AUX.MOD the component for you.2PL.HON order.INF
We can order the component for you.

In the context of a meal, a question such as the following is, through a process of inferencing, conventionally understood as a request.

Kan ek so 'n bietjie rys kry?
can.AUX.MOD I so a little rice have.INF
May I have some rice?

Kon is used instead of kan to make a suggestion (19a), offer (19b) or request (19c) sound more tentative:

a. Julle kon gerus nog 'n bietjie langer kuier!
you.2PL can.AUX.MOD.PRT surely still a little longer visit.INF
You should feel free to stay a little longer!
b. Ons kon die onderdeel vir u bestel.
we can.AUX.MOD.PRT the component for you.2SG.HON order.INF
We could order the component for you.
c. Kon ek dalk nog 'n bietjie kry?
can.AUX.MOD.PRT I perhaps still a little have.INF
Could I perhaps have a little more?

Sham permission may be employed to express praise:

Jy kan maar bak!
you.2SG canAUX.MOD freely bake.INF
You really bake well!

An 'obligation' ascribed by a speaker to an addressee, amounts to a request. In speech acts, moet is therefore usually a directive, an act whereby the speaker attempts to get the hearer to do something(Archer, Aijmer and Wichman 2012:39).  

Julle moet asseblief die vergadering bywoon.
you.2PL must.AUX.MOD please the meeting attend.INF
You must please attend the meeting.

In (22), the speaker applies the directive to herself:

Hy het gesê dis lozenges vir my keel, ek moet sommer twee vat.
he have.AUX say.PST.PTCP it.is lozenges for my throat I must.AUX.MOD even two take..INF
He said they were lozenges for my throat, I should feel free to take two.
F. Smith: Kamphoer, 2014, 157

If the obligation is explicitly removed, prohibition may result, as in (23). As a speech act, a prohibitive remains a request or directive.

Julle moenie die vergadering bywoon nie.
you.2PL must.not.AUX.MOD the meeting attend.INF PTCL.NEG
You shouldn’t attend the meeting.

As the conventionalised form of the prohibitive in Afrikaans (see moet under Root meanings), the illocutive force of moenie equals that of an imperative:

Moenie daardie deur gebruik nie!
must.not AUX.MOD.IMP that door use.INF PTCL.NEG
Don’t use that door!

If the speaker wishes to cancel or relax the necessity of the action, hoef ... te may be used, as in:

Jy hoef mos nie dadelik te gaan nie, Johannes.
you.2SG need.AUX.MOD. surely not immediately PTCL.INF go.INF PTCL.NEG Johannes
Surely you don’t need to leave immediately, Johannes.
W. Odendaal: Landskap, 2009, 32

A confession may be mitigated by feigning obligation:

Ek moet darem erken ...
I must.AUX.MOD all.the.same admit.INF
I must admit, all the same ...
G. Taljaard: Engel, 2009, 41

A commissive is a speech act in which the speaker commits him/herself to do some future act(Archer, Aijmer and Wichman 2012:39). This may have its origin in an intention directed at the addressee, and have the force of a promise:

Ek sal later sommer self met hom praat.
I will.AUX.MOD later just self with him talk.INF
I will just talk to him myself later on.
J. Kirsten: Wit plafon, 2009, 161

When the prediction is made directly applicable to the addressee instead, thereby raising its status to that of a faît accompli in the addressee’s future, this may result in a directive of considerable force. The speaker’s intention is emphasized prosodically:

a. Jy sál die deur sluit!
you.SG will.AUX.MOD the door lock.INF
You shall lock the door!
b. Julle sál nou drie maal om die veld hardloop!
you.2PL will.AUX.MOD now three times around the field run.INF
You shall run around the field three times now!
c. “Jy sal jou nou gedra,” sê Pietro afgemete.
you.2SG will.AUX.MOD you.2SG.REFL now behave.INF say Pietro measured.ADV
You shall behave now, Pietro said in measured tones.
M. Heese: Maestro, 2016, 68

An unlikely outcome is the vehicle for indignation in:

Sy sal haar tog deur oom Petrus laat vertel waar sy moet slaap!
she will.AUX.MOD her surely by uncle Petrus let.LINK tel.INFl where.CNJ she must.AUX.MOD sleep.INF
She certainly wouldn’t have uncle Petrus tell her where she must sleep!
J.M. Gilfillan: Glas, 2007, 89

To mitigate requests or for the sake of politeness, questions containing sal or its preterite form sou are used. The addressee is given time to consider the request, hence the future projection of sal, while sou allows the addressee even more freedom by making the request more tentative. The addressee is afforded an opportunity to make a prediction of the speaker come true. Further mitigation may be introduced by appealing to the addressee’s ability (by kan/kon) to fulfill the request. This may be accompanied by non-verbs, such as the particle of polite request, asseblief please, an emotive epithet such as ou old and the – perhaps slightly ironical – use of the diminutive, as in gunsie favour.DIM:

a. Sal jy asseblief die deur sluit?
will.AUX.MOD you.2SG please the door lock.INF
Will you please lock the door?
b. Sou jy dié ou gunsie vir my kon doen?
shall.AUX.MOD.PRT you.2SG this old favour.DIM for me can.AUX.MOD.PRT do.INF
Would you kindly do me this favour?

Sou is used in a slightly ironical/emotive (disgruntled) way in a fixed expression:

Ek sou so dink!
I shall.AUX.MOD.PRT so think
I should think so!

Wishes are expressed somewhat formally by mag, in a formulaic construction requiring inversion, and only have the force of a wish when directed at an addressee:

Mag dit aan al jou verwagtinge voldoen!
may.AUX.MOD it to all your expectations fulfil.INF
May it come up to all your expectations!

In informal interaction wishes are expressed by means of declaratives with moet must, which derive their force from the urgency of ‘obligation’:

Julle moet veilig ry!
you.2PL must.AUX.MOD safely drive.INF
Drive safely!

The wish in the following derives its urgency from the inherent ‘prohibition’:

Dit moenie môre reën nie!
it must.not.AUX.MOD tomorrow rain.INF PTCL.NEG
It musn’t rain tomorrow!
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