A Critical Stylistic Study of Modality in Selected Tweets of the Former American President Donald Trump

Academic Paper, 2023

22 Pages



This paper is an attempt to explore modality used by the Former U.S. President Donald Trump in his tweets to indicate his political and ideological intentions and goals during (2020), because it is the last year of Trump’s Presidency; and it is the year that the American elections held, and within this year Covid-19 swept the world. The critical stylistic analysis aims at uncovering Trump’s ideological outlook by identifying the extra layer of meaning in which the ideological evaluation is structured and exposing the way in which the resources of language are strategically deployed to influence and ideologically manipulate Trump’s followers’ experience of reality.

One of Jeffries’s (2010) tools which is “hypothesizing” used in analyzing modality in critical stylistics, and she also proposes some constructions that give modal meaning such as (lexical verbs, modal adjectives, modal adverbs and conditional structure), in addition to Simpson’s (1993) four categories (deontic, boulomaic, epistemic and perception).

Keywords: Critical Stylistics, Critical Discourse Analysis, Modality, A (meta)functional Approach to Language, Hypothesizing and Modality, Ideology and Politics, Donald Trump and Social Media.


In the late 1970 many areas of language study are rapidly evolved, and one of these areas regards discourse as ‘a form as social practice’ (Fairclough and Wodak, 1997: 258). Thus, this area is named Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA), and it takes consideration of the context of language use to be crucial to discourse. Hence, it takes an interest in the relation between language and power. Wodak (2010: 302) defines CDA as a problem-orientated interdisciplinary research program, subsuming a variety of approaches, each with different theoretical models, research methods, and agendas. What unites all approaches is a shared interest in the semiotic dimensions of power, injustice, and political-economic, social, or cultural change in society.

However, Critical stylistics analyses literary as well as non-literary texts (Jeffries, 2014: 408). It is evolved from critical linguistics which assumes that language shapes and is shaped by social structures. The goal of critical linguistics is to 'demystify' authors' and speakers' aims. Like critical linguistics, critical stylistics draws on Halliday's meta-functions of language and his systemic-functional linguistics (SFL). Halliday's (1973) meta-functions are three: the ideational, or the use of language to communicate experiences and views; the interpersonal which negotiates the relations between language users, and the textual which is the use of language to create a coherent and cohesive text. Jeffries (2014) specifically focuses on the ideational, noting that it is not the language itself but its specific use within a specific context that has a specific (potentially problematic) meaning. Thus, Critical stylistics is considered as a response to developments in critical discourse analysis (CDA), by returning the text to its central place in the analysis and to move away from the explicitly (Marxist) political nature of critical discourse analysis, CDA is explicitly conceived as a method of (Marxist and or left-wing) academic activism (Jeffries 2014: 408).

The current study is critically analyzing Donald Trump’s discourse on Twitter in terms of modality. The modality in Donald Trump's tweets is typically assertive and confident, often using strong language to convey his perspective on a particular issue or topic. The modality in his tweets is reflective of his strong personality and tendency towards assertiveness in his communication style. To achieve the study aims, the study tries to answer the following questions:

1-How is modality employed in Donald Trump’s tweets?
2-What are the types of modality used in Trump’s discourse on Twitter?

2.Critical Stylistics

Critical stylistics is evolved in reaction to the rise of critical discourse analysis as an increasingly influential approach to ideology in language. While the origins of critical discourse analysis are close to stylistics, with Roger Fowler an influential stylistician as well as one of the founders of critical discourse analysis, the two have grown increasingly distant from each other in the intervening decades. As Jeffries and McIntyre (2010:15) state, ‘the unavoidable basis of all stylistics remains the text itself’. Jeffries’s intention in developing a strand of stylistics which is concerned with ideology is to keep that principle intact while demonstrating that stylistic analysis is as useful and insightful when the data was nonfiction as when it is literary in nature. Indeed, the development of a specifically ideological or ‘critical’ stylistics has led Jeffries to the conclusion that the tools of analysis that are needed to perform all kinds of text analysis are the same. In other words, texts make meaning in fundamentally the same way, whether they are poems, novels, newspapers or political manifestoes (Jeffries, 2014 :408). Critical stylistics is as an attempt to bring the text back into discussions of discourse meaning, while acknowledging that much of the discussion of context over the last twenty years has been productive and insightful. However, the notion that the language system at the centre of human communication is of little relevance to the meanings being conveyed has taken too strong a hold, and Jeffries proposes the model which follows in the spirit of adding to, not replacing, the insights into contextual features of ideological meaning arising from critical discourse analysis (ibid: 410-11).

3.Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA)

Critical discourse analysis (CDA) is a type of discourse analytical research that primarily studies the way social power abuse, dominance, and inequality are enacted, reproduced, and resisted by text and talk in the social and political context(Van Dijk, 2001: 352). The early stirrings of what is now widely called critical discourse analysis, has also been called critical linguistics in the past. CDA is basically political in its practitioners' intention to work on the world for transforming it and contribute to create a world free from discrimination based on gender, race, age and social class. Moreover, critical analysis of discourse is a kind of research of analyzing discourse in which issues such as inequality, hegemony and power are legislated, reproduced and confronted by talk and text in political and social context (Caldas-Coulthard and Coulthard, 1996: xi). Critical linguistics, followed by CDA, is partly a reaction to the scientific claims of linguistics in its modern phase of development, arising out of the frustration of those who want to make their research relevant to their political and social outlook. This is understandable, but it leads to the assumption that since absolute objectivity, rigour and replicability are unattainable. Moreover, developing critical stylistics is the answer to feelings of frustration in the face of critical discourse analysis’s deliberate lack of methodology or framework and its apparent abandonment of many of the achievements of linguistics in its scientific phase of development (Jeffries, 2014 : 410).


Modality refers broadly to a speaker’s attitude towards, or opinion about, the truth of a proposition expressed by a sentence. It also extends to their attitude towards the situation or event described by a sentence. Modality is therefore a major exponent of the interpersonal function of language. Modality has been used rather loosely to refer to ‘attitudinal’ features of language. In his own account Fowler quite properly identifies a variety of grammatical means for conveying modal commitment, amongst which are included modal auxiliaries, modal adverbs (or sentence adverbs), evaluative adjectives and adverbs, generic sentences and verbs of knowledge, prediction and evaluation (Simpson, 1993: 43).

According to (Nørgaard, 2014: 473), In interpersonal meta-function, Hallidayan stylisticians are likely to examine how characters are construed interpersonally through the distribution of speech roles, mood choices, modality, vocatives and naming. As regards the distribution of speech roles and mood choices, analysis of these elements will reveal who is speaking and for how long, who is ‘giving’ and ‘taking’ in conversation and whether this is done straightforwardly through congruent mood choices, or in grammatically incongruent ways as a means of politeness. An analysis of modality will throw light on the aspect of characterisation that concerns speakers’ commitment to what is being said. While some characters like people in reality are likely to confidently state things as absolute (positive or negative) facts, others may tend to modalise as a result of uncertainty (‘maybe she thinks you’ll marry her, (Joyce, 1992: 45)); for emphasis and/or to seem more certain than is actually the case (‘that emphatically takes the biscuit’, (ibid)); or as markers of politeness (‘if I may so call it’, (ibid. : 44)).

Simpson (1993: 43) identifies and describes four modal systems of English. They are the deontic system, boulomaic system; the epistemic system with its subsystem of perception modality. Deontic modality is the modal system of ‘duty’, as it is concerned with a speaker’s attitude to the degree of obligation attaching to the performance of certain actions. For example, in the following examples, the deontic modal auxiliaries realize a continuum of commitment from permission (1) through obligation (2) to requirement (3):

You may leave.

You should leave.

You must leave.

Deontic expressions may also combine adjectives and participles in ‘BE…THAT’ and ‘BE…TO’ constructions representing a comparable continuum of commitment. The following examples exhibit different degrees of obligation and possibility:

You are permitted to leave. (BE+ participle +TO)

It is possible for you to leave. (BE+ adjective +TO)

You are obliged to leave. (BE+ participle +TO)

It is necessary that you leave. (BE+ adjective +THAT)

Boulomaic modality is extensively grammaticized in English in expressions of ‘desire’. Modal lexical verbs indicating the wishes and desires of the speaker are central in the boulomaic system, as the following examples:

I hope that you will leave.

I wish you’d leave.

I regret that you’re leaving.

Again, boulomaic expressions may also combine adjectival and participial constructions in a ‘BE… TO’ or ‘BE …THAT’ framework can carry boulomaic commitment, although related modal adverbs may also be used:

It is hoped that you will leave. (BE+ participle +THAT)

It’s good that you’re leaving. (BE+ adjective +THAT)

It is regrettable that you’re leaving. (BE+ adjective +THAT)

Hopefully, you’ll leave. (modal adverb)

Regrettably, you’re leaving. (modal adverb) (ibid: 44)

The epistemic system is possibly the most important regarding the analysis of point of view. Epistemic modality is concerned with the speaker’s confidence or lack of confidence in the truth of a proposition expressed. In the following examples, the modal auxiliaries are used in their epistemic sense. They convey varying degrees of epistemic commitment to the basic proposition You are right:

You could be right.

You may be right.

You must be right.

You might have been right.

You should have been right (i.e. in the context of ‘If you followed the instructions carefully’). (ibid: 44-5)

Despite the obvious centrality of the modal auxiliaries in the system, epistemic modality may be grammaticized through a range of other devices. Modal lexical verbs are one means:

I think you are right.

I suppose you’re right.

I believe you are right.

Epistemic expressions may combine adjectives in ‘BE…THAT’ and ‘BE…TO’ constructions:

(25) You are sure to be right.

(26) It’s certain that you’re right.

(27) It’s doubtful that you’re right.

There is also a group of epistemic modal adverbs which includes, but is not restricted to, the following: arguably, maybe, perhaps, possibly, probably, certainly, supposedly, allegedly.

However, speakers also have the option of expressing the basic proposition in its ‘raw’ form; or in other words, as a categorical assertion as in: “You are right”. Categorical assertions express the strongest possible degree of speaker commitment. In this respect, they are ‘epistemically non-modal’. Epistemic expressions thus function to distinguish non-categorical assertions from categorical ones by signalling that the speaker’s commitment to the truth of the proposition encoded in the utterance is qualified. This distinction is crucial, yet it may strike some as counter-intuitive to argue that You are right is actually epistemically stronger than the modalized You must be right (ibid: 45). Therefore, the use of epistemic modal operators such as must, certainly, and necessarily renders the speaker’s commitment to the factuality of propositions explicitly dependent on their own knowledge (ibid: 46).


Excerpt out of 22 pages


A Critical Stylistic Study of Modality in Selected Tweets of the Former American President Donald Trump
University of Babylon  (Ministry of Education, Iraq)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
Critical Stylistics, Critical Discourse Analysis, Modality, A (meta)functional Approach to Language, Hypothesizing and Modality, Ideology and Politics, Donald Trump and Social Media.
Quote paper
Mohanned Jassim Dakhil Al-Ghizzy (Author), 2023, A Critical Stylistic Study of Modality in Selected Tweets of the Former American President Donald Trump, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/1357540


  • No comments yet.
Look inside the ebook
Title: A Critical Stylistic Study of Modality in Selected Tweets of the Former American President Donald Trump

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free