n of the ChristMarina P.
Universidad Nacional de Tucumn
The purpose of this essay is to analyze a film review titled "Good and Evil
locked 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. Scott
deals with Mel Gibson's last movie: The Passion of the Christ. The analysis
will focus on the use of modalizers following some theoretical basis
developed by Geoff Thompson and Randolph Quirk.
In the first section I will
provide the theoretical framework used for this analysis and the following
section will be devoted to the discussion proper.
Section 1: Theoretical Basis
For this analysis I propose Thompson and Quirks' theoretical basis in that
they give an adequate framework with which to focus on modalization. It is
possible to say that any text denotes an interaction between the writer and
the reader. For this interaction to lead to a successful reading of the
text, the writer must take into account the existence of a real reader,
what Thompson calls the awareness of the audience (2001:1).
identifies two specific types of language resources: On the one hand, the
interactive devices help to guidethereaderthroughthetext;
interactional resources, ontheotherhand,involvethereader
cooperatively in the process of decoding and construction of the text.Thompson believes that the reader-in-the-text, i.e the inclusion in the
text of a voice that is intended to be attributed to the reader, is a
central form of interactional resources because the writer constructs a
reader-in-the text with sets of shared attitudes and knowledge so that it
does not appear that the writer is presupposing ideas which might be
unacceptable for the real reader. For the purpose of involving the reader
colaboratively in the interpretation of the text, the writer needs to make
use of modalizers so as to be cautious rather than categorical. Generally
absolute assertions do not leave room for other possible points of view and
cause the reader not to feel comfortable and willing to go on reading.Randolph Quirk (1985:218) makes a general but useful distinction of
modalizers which he calls downtoners in that they have the function of
diminishing the force of what is being said.
According to Quirk, downtoners
can be divided into four groups: compromisers, which denote a slight
lowering on the scale; diminishers which denote a downward scaling and mean
'to a small extent'; minimizers, which denote the lower extreme of the
scale and aproximators, which serve to express an approximation to the
force of the verb.
Section 2: Discussion
In the film review proposed for analysis, it is possible to observe a good
use of modalizers on part of the writer. We can assume that he is conscious
of the fact that he is writing an argumentative type of paper which
requires caution and avoidance of categorical assertions. It is also
possible to notice that he is aware of the presence of an audience.The
film review seems to have a predictable pattern of argumentative essay
exploited by the writer and easily followed by the reader.
Some of the
evidence shows that there are explicit elements signaling the fluent
dialogue between the writer and the reader which is brought to the surface
by the use of modalizers. To exemplify signals, I would like to point out
some instances where modalizers are used. Diminishers such as seem and tend
( as for example in "...
the movie seems to insist..." in the sixth
parahraph and ".
..earlier American movies about Jesus..
.have tended to be
palatable..." in the third paragraph) are consistently used to mitigate the
perlocutionary force, and by this we mean the effect on the receiver. The
use of this kind of downtoners shows us the writer's willingness to involve
the reader colaboratively in the development of the text so as to easily
achieve the argumentative goal of persuading the reader to think in a
Some other diminishers such as something like in the fifth
paragraph and somewhat abstractly in the following one are also used with
the same purpose. In the sixth paragraph, the modalizer "often" is used to
downgrade the frequency with which the Gospels treat certain events with
circumspection. The last paragraph of the film review is introduced by a
very interesting sentence: "Anyway, this is a film review, not Sunday
school". Within the universe of Scott's film review, this sentence clearly
brings to the surface the dialogue between the writer and the reader. The
writer is anticipating the reader's reaction. This instance does not only
show the interactional aspect of the interpersonal function of language but
also helps to guide the reader through the line of argumentation.
this same last paragraph, with the phrase"eitherguilelesslyor
ingeniously" the author gives an alternative possibility that gives room to
the reader's choice of viewpoint.
In this paper we have discussed A. O. Scott's film review on The Passion
of the Christ according to Thompson's theory about the interaction between
the writer and the reader and Quirks classification of downtoners.
focus of this analysis was the use of modalizers. The things observed were
that the writer makes use of a predictable essay pattern for the reader to
easily follow the line of argumentation. He also shows to be aware of the
audience because he tries to involve them cooperatively in thedevelopment
of the text. For this intention, he makes good use of modalizers that make
the sound cautious rather than categorical in his assertions. In this way,
the writer not only makes use of what Thompson calls the interpersonal
resources of language but also of the interactional resources that let him
have a fluent dialogue with the reader.
Thompson, G. (2001) "Interaction in academic writing: learning to argue
with the reader." in Applied Linguistics 22/1 58 - 78.
Quirk, R. (1985) A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language. Addison
Wesley Publishing Company.