The use of modalizers in a film review: The Passio Essay

n of the ChristMarina P. PindarUniversidad Nacional de TucumnIntroductionThe purpose of this essay is to analyze a film review titled “Good and Evillocked in Violent Showdown” which was published by the New York Times on-line on February 25, 2004. This film review, whose author is A. O. Scottdeals with Mel Gibson’s last movie: The Passion of the Christ. The analysiswill focus on the use of modalizers following some theoretical basisdeveloped by Geoff Thompson and Randolph Quirk. In the first section I willprovide the theoretical framework used for this analysis and the followingsection will be devoted to the discussion proper.

Section 1: Theoretical BasisFor this analysis I propose Thompson and Quirks’ theoretical basis in thatthey give an adequate framework with which to focus on modalization. It ispossible to say that any text denotes an interaction between the writer andthe reader. For this interaction to lead to a successful reading of thetext, the writer must take into account the existence of a real reader,what Thompson calls the awareness of the audience (2001:1). When dealingwith theinterpersonalmetafunctionoflanguage,Thompson(2001:2)identifies two specific types of language resources: On the one hand, theinteractive devices help to guidethereaderthroughthetext;interactional resources, ontheotherhand,involvethereadercooperatively in the process of decoding and construction of the text.

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Thompson believes that the reader-in-the-text, i.e the inclusion in thetext of a voice that is intended to be attributed to the reader, is acentral form of interactional resources because the writer constructs areader-in-the text with sets of shared attitudes and knowledge so that itdoes not appear that the writer is presupposing ideas which might beunacceptable for the real reader. For the purpose of involving the readercolaboratively in the interpretation of the text, the writer needs to makeuse of modalizers so as to be cautious rather than categorical. Generallyabsolute assertions do not leave room for other possible points of view andcause the reader not to feel comfortable and willing to go on reading.

Randolph Quirk (1985:218) makes a general but useful distinction ofmodalizers which he calls downtoners in that they have the function ofdiminishing the force of what is being said. According to Quirk, downtonerscan be divided into four groups: compromisers, which denote a slightlowering on the scale; diminishers which denote a downward scaling and mean’to a small extent’; minimizers, which denote the lower extreme of thescale and aproximators, which serve to express an approximation to theforce of the verb.

Section 2: DiscussionIn the film review proposed for analysis, it is possible to observe a gooduse of modalizers on part of the writer. We can assume that he is consciousof the fact that he is writing an argumentative type of paper whichrequires caution and avoidance of categorical assertions. It is alsopossible to notice that he is aware of the presence of an audience.Thefilm review seems to have a predictable pattern of argumentative essayexploited by the writer and easily followed by the reader. Some of theevidence shows that there are explicit elements signaling the fluentdialogue between the writer and the reader which is brought to the surfaceby the use of modalizers. To exemplify signals, I would like to point outsome instances where modalizers are used. Diminishers such as seem and tend( as for example in “…the movie seems to insist…” in the sixthparahraph and “…earlier American movies about Jesus…have tended to bepalatable…” in the third paragraph) are consistently used to mitigate theperlocutionary force, and by this we mean the effect on the receiver. Theuse of this kind of downtoners shows us the writer’s willingness to involvethe reader colaboratively in the development of the text so as to easilyachieve the argumentative goal of persuading the reader to think in acertain way. Some other diminishers such as something like in the fifthparagraph and somewhat abstractly in the following one are also used withthe same purpose. In the sixth paragraph, the modalizer “often” is used todowngrade the frequency with which the Gospels treat certain events withcircumspection. The last paragraph of the film review is introduced by avery interesting sentence: “Anyway, this is a film review, not Sundayschool”. Within the universe of Scott’s film review, this sentence clearlybrings to the surface the dialogue between the writer and the reader. Thewriter is anticipating the reader’s reaction. This instance does not onlyshow the interactional aspect of the interpersonal function of language butalso helps to guide the reader through the line of argumentation. After inthis same last paragraph, with the phrase”eitherguilelesslyoringeniously” the author gives an alternative possibility that gives room tothe reader’s choice of viewpoint.

ConclusionIn this paper we have discussed A. O. Scott’s film review on The Passionof the Christ according to Thompson’s theory about the interaction betweenthe writer and the reader and Quirks classification of downtoners. Thefocus of this analysis was the use of modalizers. The things observed werethat the writer makes use of a predictable essay pattern for the reader toeasily follow the line of argumentation. He also shows to be aware of theaudience because he tries to involve them cooperatively in thedevelopmentof the text. For this intention, he makes good use of modalizers that makethe sound cautious rather than categorical in his assertions. In this way,the writer not only makes use of what Thompson calls the interpersonalresources of language but also of the interactional resources that let himhave a fluent dialogue with the reader.

References:Thompson, G. (2001) “Interaction in academic writing: learning to arguewith the reader.” in Applied Linguistics 22/1 58 – 78.

Quirk, R. (1985) A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language. AddisonWesley Publishing Company. pp. 218-219.

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