"Auxiliary verbs shall be used consistently": Standardisation and modality in directive texts
GIANNONI DAVIDE SIMONE
Questo studio prende in esame gli aspetti teorici e applicativi dei recenti tentativi di standardizzare la modalità verbale nell'ambito ristretto delle specifiche tecniche stabilite dagli organismi di normazione. Le Regole redazionali prodotte da tali enti nell'ultimo decennio costituiscono infatti un interessante esempio del tentativo internazionale di dare ordine al complesso intreccio semantico-pragmatico dei modali inglesi, malgrado il loro notevole carico di ambiguità e polisemia. Il
... di questo approccio prettamente prescrittivo sarà attentamente discusso alla luce degli studi sulla modalità verbale (soprattutto deontica) e di alcuni esempi tratti da testi normativi redatti secondo tali Regole. 7 DAVIDE SIMONE GIANNONI "Auxiliary verbs shall be used consistently": Standardisation and modality in directive texts 1 1 Early results incorporated in this study were presented at the International Conference on Modality in Contemporary English, held at the University of Verona from 6-8 September 2001. bal modality is not only a semantic-grammatical category but also a key contributor to the illocutionary meaning of utterances (Leech 1987) . In English, its behaviour is complicated by the polysemous nature of central modal auxiliaries, which can take on divergent meanings in different contexts: when deontic, they lay an obligation or grant permission; if epistemic, they make claims about the validity of a proposition; if dynamic, they express ability or circumstantial possibility (Palmer 1990). Indeed, their ambiguity is at times so strong that different types of modality may co-occur and overlap. While semantic fuzziness is dealt with easily in conversational use, it can be a source of serious misunderstanding in written communication, especially when the purpose is strict compliance with a set of requirements. Insofar as they elicit a given behaviour on the reader's part, texts in this class -e.g. laws, regulations, rules and instructions -are generally of the 'directive' (Gläser 1995) type and resort above all to deontic modality. This category includes industrial standards, which (albeit not compulsory in their own right) may be incorporated or referred to in contracts and legislation, sometimes leading to litigation for lack of compliance. Industrial standards provide a working framework for trade and industry within and between different countries. They cover an impressive number of fields, from danger warnings to grades of materials, paper sizes, computer protocols, technical compatibility, test methods, workplace safety, measurement units and management quality (ISO 1999). Their main purpose is to define common specifications for goods and services, regardless of geographical, cultural and linguistic constraints. A standard may therefore be defined (ISO 2001a: 9) as a Document, established by consensus and approved by a recognized body, that provides, for common and repeated use, rules, guidelines or characteristics for activities or their results, aimed at the achievement of the optimum degree of order in a given context. [...] Standards should be based on the consolidated results of science, technology and experience, and aimed at the promotion of optimum community benefits. Standards are often drafted by non-native speakers and unclear language is admittedly the most frequent problem encountered by editors (Dicker 1997) . The importance of modal auxiliaries in such a setting 8 Linguistica e Filologia 16 (2003) can hardly be overemphasized, considering that (ISO 2001: 27): "In order to be able to claim compliance with a standard, the user needs to be able to identify the requirements he is obliged to satisfy. He needs also to be able to distinguish these requirements from other provisions where he has a certain freedom of choice". This paper deals with recent attempts to standardize the use of English modal auxiliaries made by six regulatory agencies: the British Standards Institute (BSI), which targets a single country; the European Committee for Standardization (CEN), the European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardization (CENELEC) and the European Telecommunication Standards Institute (ETSI), which operate across Europe; the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), which operate worldwide. The last two of these combined produce some 85% of all international standards. Close collaboration and interaction in this field is confirmed by the growing number of standards issued in one area and later adopted verbatim by an authority in another area, whether in the original language alone or with a translation. Most of these bodies have more than one official language: English, French and German for CEN and CENELEC; English and French (plus Russian in some instances) for ISO and IEC. Only ETSI, in the international fold, has opted for English alone. Before investigating the linguistic concerns of these organisations, it is helpful to outline their functions and duties in each geographical area, from the UK to worldwide level.