The main goal of the project is to better understand the role of modality (e.g. possibility, necessity, probability or un certainty) in the predictions appearing in a corpus of Italian economic newspaper articles. The aim is to combine the theoretical tools of semantics and argumentation theory in order to study the contribution of different modal meanings both to the logical and to the communicative structure of natural arguments. From a theoretical point of view, the research studies the connection between the different modal meanings and the realization of different kinds of argumentative moves in the text. The hypothesis of an intimate connection between the two levels has been put forth repeatedly in modern argumentation theory since the foundational work of S. Toulmin (1958), but was neither investigated systematically nor tested empirically. Thus the project aims at contributing significantly to the research on argumentative indicators, that are structures signalling a particular argumentative move might be in progress, and to the task of reconstructing the inferential structure of informal arguments in natural language.
A systematic approach for dealing with modalities in the reconstruction of arguments has been proposed in Rocci (2008) and will be tested and refined during the project. The genre selected offers an ideal test-bed for such an investigation, and at the same time represents a promising field of application, where the study of the interaction between modality and argumentation is likely to throw light on the functioning of prediction as a key speech act of economic discourse. In fact, in economic-financial news, prediction of future developments often primes over the reporting of past events.
From a socio-pragmatic point of view, financial news concerning public companies primarily addresses an audience of investors whose demand for information is oriented towards supporting their future investment decisions. Financial news influences these decision processes both directly and indirectly. In connection to the presentation of predictions, the communication of forecasting uncertainty and of the conditions of validity is particularly problematic, as these texts address a wider public of semi-expert people.
Argumentative support of predictions can be also problematic, given the highly technical nature of economic forecasting. These socio-pragmatic features are reflected in the language used by an extreme abundance of complex combinations of modal expressions, conditional structures, reported speech and other structures signalling the attribution of forecasts to expert or informed sources.
From a methodological point of view, the research will be based on a large corpus (more than 4 million words) of articles from different Italian economic-financial newspapers and will build a database of analyzed argumentative passages which will be exploited to investigate the correlation between modal meanings and different types of moves deployed in argumentative discourse. The obtained result can be readily transferred to the education of financial communication and business journalism professionals, providing them with critical insights for evaluating the quality of the economic-financial press.