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Epistemic Modality Markers in European and American Law Journals


Over the last decades the attention of scholars working in the filed of social sciences has been directed towards language variation, and discourse analysis has increasingly evolved as a valuable way of understanding the use of language in a variety of academic, institutional and professional settings (Clyne 1994; Flowerdew & Gotti 2006; Bhatia et al. 2008). According to the sociolinguist approach, genres become ‘dynamically rhetorical structures’ that can be manoeuvred according to the discipline’s norms, values and ideology, both historically and incrementally changing as disciplinary knowledge and genres required and created by discourse communities’ change (Bhatia 2004; Hyland 2004, 2009). This is particularly evident in the legal field, where ‘procedural knowledge and social knowledge’ (Bakhtin 1986; Brown et al. 1989) play a key role in the acquisition and strategically deployment of genre knowledge as academic writers participate in their ‘profession’s knowledge-producing activities’ (Berkenkotter & Huckin 2009). The aim of this paper is to explore the use of epistemic modality markers in a selection of issues of a number of European and American legal journals dealing with constitutional and Public Law & Administration, written in English and published between the 1990s and 2000s. Emphasis will be given to the emerging constitution of the European Union and the interplay between law and politics. Starting from the generally agreed assumption (Hyland 1998; Vold 2006) that epistemic assessment of the information conveyed is a significant aspect of academic discourse, the present work focuses on differences/similarities in the use of the most frequently-occurring markers in the texts included in the corpus from a diachronic perspective. The author’s intent is to understand the socio-cultural implications with the intent of uncovering the rhetorical organisation and argumentative strategies deployed by European and American disciplinary actors in response to the changing emergent community’s norms and ideology.