Analysing modal systems

Author : Jozina Vander Klok

Publication date : 2014

Bibliographical references :

Vander Klok, Jozina. 2014. 'Questionnaire on modality for cross-linguistic use'.


"This questionnaire is designed to be a fieldwork tool to help establish a modal system in a given language, looking at the lexically specification of modal expressions. Does a given modal expression lexically specify both modal force and modal flavour? for only modal force? for only modal flavour? for neither modal force or modal flavour?" (Vander Klok, 2014: 1)

This questionnaire enables the linguist to elicit necessity, weak necessity, or possibility (modal force) as well as plain epistemic, deontic, circumstantial and teleological modal flavour. However, it was not designed to investigate evidential, future, or bouletic modals.

Protocol summary

This questionnaire may be used as a:

"- elicitation with only one or a small group of speakers
- translation exercise (cf. Dahl 1985 ‘Tense and Aspect’)
- fill-in-the-blank (this requires knowledge of the syntax of the object language)
- truth-value judgment task
- felicity judgment task:

  1.   semi-forced choice
  2.   forced choice
  3.   rating task"

(Vander Klok​, 2014: 1)

There is a list of 37 English sentences to be translated into the target language. Each sentence contains a modal and gives a context to interpret the modal one way or another.

Development context

This questionnaire was, at first, designed to be used for Javanese.

''Modality is a category of meaning that concerns two dimensions: modal force and modal flavor. The dimension of modal force concerns whether a modal marker expresses possibility or necessity, or somewhere in between, such as so-called ‘weak necessity’ modals. In English, some examples of possibility modals are might, may, can; necessity modals must, have to; weak necessity modals should, ought to. The dimension of modal flavor concerns what type of interpretation a modal marker can express. For instance, epistemic modal flavor is compatible with possible or necessary conclusions drawn from a particular body of knowledge; deontic modal flavor is compatible with a body of rules or regulations; circumstantial modal flavor is compatible with particular facts about the world. Other types of modal flavor include bouletic modal flavor, which is compatible with someone’s desires or wishes; and teleological modal flavor, which is compatible with someone’s goals." (Typological tools for field linguistics website,


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Please use the revised modal questionnaire (Vander Klok 2022).
also available on my website: