In English, the concept of modality has been the subject of studies crucial to the understanding and functioning of the language. Modality governs, for example, the choice of whether to use “may,” “shall,” or “must” as an auxiliary of the main verb in sentences. The study of these modal auxiliaries reveals the speaker’s intention when making statements. Although modality has been studied in Japanese as a field of Japanese linguistics for decades, its study has been historically unfocused, and few articles or books have been written on it in English.
Modality and the Japanese Language is innovative as an English-language text that examines a wide range of grammatical categories in terms of both modal and propositional content—namely, modal auxiliaries, aspectual categories, and conditionals—and reveals a new approach to Japanese modality that relies more centrally on concepts developed in the study of English modality. Yuki Johnson finds many practical and theoretical similarities between English and Japanese modal auxiliaries and argues that modality can be thought of as an expression of the degree of a speaker’s conviction concerning a proposition’s truth or realization in the form of possible or non-actual words. Such a definition adds perspective to the study of Japanese modality: propositions, for example, become objects of that study in the form of conditional sentences and aspectual categories.
Modality will benefit scholars in Japanese linguistics and those engaged in research on the general theory of modals. It will also be helpful to language educators generally, graduate students, and advanced students of Japanese.