In this second part on my MA dissertation, I have decided to render the results with limited discussion, partly because last post was just too long for blogging conventions, I feel; and partly because the results are interesting but not ground-breaking nor counter-intuitive. I could be very brief and show my abstract again, but maybe a little bit more explanation is required.
The days of absolute truth-finding are over, and I would not want to proclaim anything like truth. What I have found is suggestive of trends, but has been subject to errors in the online corpus – my study has had its limitations. In a world of superstition and paranoia, this presents the subtle work of irony to show that indeed we can never fully know what is going on (in language). But here, then, is how I make this study meaningful.
The data has revealed that certainly in mid-position as a reinforcing adverb with subjective, abstract meaning appears with all modals with a high frequency. As such, it is a plausible candidate for grammaticalisation (Bybee 2003; Hopper and Traugott 2003). Although certainly tends to appear most often with would and will, I believe that, really, the broader picture is most important for determining its status. The fact that it combines with all modals in mid-position fulfilling the same function is indicative of its spread and this ability is vital for grammaticalising constructions; only when there is high frequency in a range of syntactically similar environments, can a construction be propagated and eventually fixated (Croft 2000). Indeed, following Noël (2007), Hopper and Traugott (2003), Bybee (2003), I believe that it is the construction in which certainly appears that has lent to it its status as a potential modal particle as Hoye suggested (1997, p. 210). As I have tried to show – elaborating on Hoye’s claim – the adverb seems very integrated into the verbal phrase. Certainly is more syntactically ingrained (exemplified by the high frequency) in the ‘middle field’ (Traugott 2007), and it co-occurs with all modal verbs in the same reinforcing, subjective function. There is a distribution of labour in that it links to the modal auxiliary and adds to the propositional content. This aspect of certainly should not be confused with the other uses it can have. ‘Layering’ is a key trait of grammaticalisation and allows for divergence. The lexical meaning has been relegated to pre-mid-position.
The six parameters have suggestively pointed at grammaticalisation up to a certain degree, but I am not entirely convinced. In favour of the claim of grammaticalisation are the syntagmatic cohesion, the paradigmatic weight and the scope. The syntagmatic cohesion has proved highest in mid-position (frequency), the scope has increased (certainly occurs with all modals) and the paradigmatic weight is low in mid-position (subjective, reinforcing meaning): There is a meaning difference between certainly in mid-position and certainly in pre-mid-position which can be allocated to its syntagmatic position. In mid-position, an abstract, reinforcing meaning can be discerned next to subjectivity, whereas in pre-mid-position the meaning has retained much of its concessive-contrastive use and whereby it approximates the use as a sentence adverb. The functional syntagmatic variability is low but not non-existent; certainly is still open for modification and this is an argument against it being a modal particle. The paradigmatic variability is high overall and the paradigmaticity is low.
To link these findings to the properties of modal particles, I have made a checklist which shows the following:
Overall, I maintain that my hypothesis is confirmed seeing that only a few parameters have shown an inclination towards grammaticalisation (cohesion, functional syntagmatic variability, paradigmatic weight, scope; frequency). Even with these signatures of grammaticalisation, I do not consider certainly as a modal particle for the reason that it allows for modification (e.g. will almost/most certainly). Probably the most deciding factors for my non-inclination to accept certainly as a modal particle are
› English’s lack of modal particles overall
› a persisting association of certainly with its adverbial use.
If English has for years been understood as a language without particles and we find items like certainly which do not entirely match the traits, then I think it is safe to assume that English still does not have what is commonly understood to be a ‘modal particle’. I could postulate that in the unmodified cases, certainly has a different, abstract meaning, which would support a theory of grammaticalisation of certainly in mid-position. The fact that a cumulative reading is not available for certainly in mid-position, additionally, would also be in support of grammaticalisation.
Although I have emphasised that intuition should not be used to make claims, my intuition has led me to question Hoye’s claim and it is my intuition – after this study – which remains sceptical of his suggestion.
An important remark is meant to relativise the above findings and claims. Also outside of the realm of modal synergy, certainly also occurs in mid-position most frequently. This could mean that it functions as a reinforcing adverb in mid-position between any auxiliary and main verb and that this function is not linked to modal synergy. Where it originated (in modal synergy or not) is a question which this study cannot answer and diachronic research will have to point out, but the changing semantic and syntactic nature of certainly is an interesting topic which needs further exploration in order to get a more complete understanding.