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Date: Wed, 31 Aug 2005 11:48:48 -1000 From: Kamil Deen Subject: Evidentiality
AUTHOR: Aikhenvald, Alexandra TITLE: Evidentiality PUBLISHER: Oxford University Press YEAR: 2004
Kamil Deen, Department of Linguistics, University of Hawaii at Manoa
Many languages of the world have morphological systems that explicitly mark the source of information on which a statement is based. For example, statements that are based on knowledge that was gained first hand through actual sight may be marked in one way, but statements based upon information gained through second-hand knowledge, say from someone else's description, may be marked another way. Grammatical reference to information source is known as 'evidentiality'. This book investigates the cross-linguistic patterns of such systems of evidentiality, providing a systematic, methodical presentation of the facts, along with a vast wealth of examples from over 500 languages.
Chapter 1 begins with a description and illustration of what exactly evidentiality is. The definition adopted is a general one: 'evidentiality is a linguistic category whose primary meaning is source of information (p.3)'. Great efforts are taken in this chapter to clarify what this definition includes and what it does not include. Specifically, the precise source of information is irrelevant to this definition, as it includes all sources of information, including visual, auditory, olfactory, first hand, second hand, etc. So long as a morpheme has as its core meaning some sort of informational source, this is sufficient for it to be categorized as evidential. Furthermore, the linguistic sense of evidential is unrelated to the common usage of the word evidence in that the linguistic term has no connotation of proof or reliability.
Here we find the first of many extremely useful discussions of the relation between evidentiality and other linguistic categories, particularly modality. The author quite rightly points out that some evidentials may carry a certain sense of possibility (or lack thereof), thus conflating epistemic modality with evidentiality. However, this does not mean that evidentiality is modality, or vice versa (as pointed out by, for example, de Haan 1999 and Lazard, 1999, amongst others). This is followed by a cogent discussion of the manner in which languages exhibit evidentiality: affixes, clitics, portmanteau morphemes (e.g., evidentiality expressed with tense), etc, as well as the range of languages in which evidentials occur. Much more detail is given of these properties of evidentials in chapter 3. A crucial distinction made is the difference between a parenthetical reference to source of information versus a grammatical marking of evidentiality, the latter of which is the focus of this book. Many languages have multiple ways of indicating the source of information, but the focus of this book includes only grammatical (i.e., morphological) marking of source of information. Finally, a history of the development of the term 'evidential' is given (pp11-17), followed by a very useful synopsis of the book (p.19).
The second chapter begins with a review of the terminology used throughout the book, followed by an in-depth typological survey of the kinds of evidential systems that exist in the languages of the world. The author describes essentially four kinds of evidential systems: those that mark two, three four or five evidential choices. Within each of these larger categories, finer distinctions are made, most notably amongst the most common category of languages that have a binary distinction. Within this category, the author provides detailed descriptions and examples from languages that mark first-hand versus non-first hand sources (she labels these A1 type languages), non-firsthand versus all other sources (labeled A2), 'hearsay' versus all else (A3), sensory evidence versus 'hearsay' (A4) and auditory versus all else (A5). Within each of the other categories, the author provides similar typological subcategorization.
Chapter 3 deals with the form in which evidentials may occur in languages, as well as some syntactic and semantic facts about evidentials. There is a long discussion about which kinds of evidentials tend to be functionally or formally marked and which kinds are often unmarked. For example, visual evidentials tend to be less formally marked than any other evidentials (p.73). As with much of the book, this is not meant for light reading, but is excellent as a source for serious, detailed typological research. The chapter finishes with an interesting discussion of the scope and time reference of evidentials.
Chapter 4 focuses on the semantic extension of evidentials to non- evidential categories such as mood, tense, etc. The author contends that this may be the source of the confusion that exists in the literature about what constitutes evidentiality: the fact that it often extends to include other semantically related categories leads some researchers to exclude evidentiality as a genuine linguistic category. In this chapter the author examines the range of overlap between other categories and evidentiality and ways in which to distinguish between the various categories. The author appropriately pays particular attention to the overlap between modality and evidentiality, given their semantic proximity.
Chapter 5 explores the meanings associated with different evidential systems. For example, systems that mark two choices in information source, e.g., first-hand versus non-first-hand, first-hand evidentiality markers often indicate what the speaker has seen. However, it can also include what the speaker has heard, smelt, or even felt (p. 154). Additionally, such first-hand evidentials often extend their meaning (as discussed in the previous chapter) to other semantic categories, e.g., systems which mark visual sources of information often extend their meaning to include epistemic certainty and commitment to the truth of a proposition (p. 161). The discussion is a very intricate one that would be much harder to follow were it not for the level of examples and description provided by the author.
Chapters 6-8 deal further with how evidentiality co-occurs with various other linguistic categories. Chapter 6 is entitled 'Evidentiality and Mirativity', where mirativity is defined as 'the speaker's unprepared mind, unexpected information and concomitant surprise'(195). The chapter discusses mirativity as a separate grammatical category (as argued for by DeLancey, 1997) as well as possible mirative extensions of evidential morphology (as suggested by Lazard, 1999). As with the rest of the book, the chapter is organized neatly into sections dealing with languages that mark two evidential choices and those that mark more than two choices. This is followed by a discussion of the strategies of mirative extension that appear in languages that mark evidentiality. Chapter 7 treats the effect of person on evidentiality. In some languages evidentials are restricted to first person (i.e., that the observed action must be observed by the speaker), while in other languages there are specific overtones associated with the use of certain evidentials with first person, such as the implication of a lack of control, or the action being inadvertent, etc. Chapter 8 deals with evidentiality and other grammatical categories, including mood (section 8.1), negation (8.2), imperatives (8.3), and tense and aspect (8.4).
The last three chapters are rather different in tone, dealing with how evidentials develop over time and are used in discourse and culture. Chapter 9 addresses the origins of evidential morphemes. A common source of evidentials is grammaticalized verbs, most often the verb 'say' and/or verbs of feeling, thinking or hearing. Evidentials also come from other categories, such as tense, nominalization, and subordinate clauses. The author shows that evidentials occur frequently in contact languages (e.g., Andean Spanish shows evidentiality, which presumably came from contact with Quechua, Aymara and other indigenous languages), and she discusses the obsolescence of languages and how evidentials play into this. Chapter 10 examines the choice of evidentials in discourse, various narrative conventions, and how such evidentials may be manipulated in discourse. Finally, chapter 11 addresses the interaction of evidentials and cognition and cultural practices. The author describes how many cultures value the precise use of data sources, and thus the local view that languages without precise evidential systems are some how less expressive. An attempt is made to reconcile these cultural facts with the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, although not very much of substance is presented in this regard. The chapter ends with a very interesting appendix in which the author presents what little work there has been on the acquisition of evidentials by children (three studies by two authors: Courtney, 1999 on Quechua; Aksu-Koc, 1988, 2000 on Turkish).
Chapter 12 is a summary chapter of the entire book. Finally, the book ends with a useful Fieldworker's Guide in which the author presents some preliminary questions that the fieldworker might begin with, followed by more detailed questions that address the content of each chapter in the book. This is not a comprehensive guide, but it certainly is a useful place to start for any beginning field worker.
Perhaps the most positive quality of this book is the methodical, detailed, careful manner in which data is presented. Throughout the text, the author presents examples of each phenomenon from a variety of languages, often presenting several examples from different languages to fully illustrate a single point. While the majority of examples come from languages that are clearly within the author's area of expertise (mostly South American, and specifically Amazonian languages), there is a healthy amount of examples taken from other language families. While the author makes some broad claims about the typology of evidential systems of the world's languages based upon a limited number of languages, that number is really very substantial (over 500) and I have no reason to doubt that her generalizations are in fact reliable.
Another very welcome contribution of this book is the clarification it offers with respect to evidentiality and various other grammatical categories, including mood, tense, aspect, etc. Not only does the author provide a clear, detailed definition of what exactly evidentiality is (a point that is less obvious from the literature than one might assume), but she delineates the category both in a semantic sense as well as a grammatical sense. Thus by the end of the first few chapters of this book, the reader is left with a clear sense of what evidentiality is, and that it is very clearly different from modality and other related categories. A possible criticism of this is that few things in language are that simple. However, the author consistently qualifies this point with extensive discussion of how evidentiality extends and overlaps with various other categories, and how to distinguish these categories even in such cases.
The content is certainly not easy reading, as it is presented in a very dense, factual manner. This is certainly not criticism, as it is entirely appropriate for a book of this sort. Furthermore, each chapter is clearly laid out and well-written, with excellent end-of-chapter summaries and tables through the book. This makes the book extremely easy to navigate, mitigating the density of the text.
Each chapter deals with a significantly different aspect of evidentiality, and thus most chapters are well-worth the time it takes to read. The only possible exception is the final substantive chapter (chapter 11), which could very well have been combined with chapter 10. Additionally, the discussion of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis seems out of place given that no conclusions could be reached and no concrete proposals are made.
Overall, I would highly recommend this book to those interested in a typological description of the evidential systems employed by the languages of the world. While this is certainly not a book intended for a general audience, the wealth of examples, the detail of discussion and the thoroughness of the survey of languages makes this book an extremely useful reference for those interested in grammatical evidentiality.
Aksu-Koc, Ayhan. 1988. The Acquisition of Aspect and Modality: The Case of Past Reference in Turkish. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Aksu-Koc, Ayhan. 2000. 'Some aspects of the acquisition of evidentials in Turkish', in Johanson and Utas (eds), 15-28.
Courtney, Ellen. 1999. 'Child language acquisition of the Quechua affirmative suffix', Santa Barbara Papers in Linguistics. Proceedings from the Second Workshop on American Indigenous Languages. Department of Linguistics, University of California, Santa Barbara, 30-41.
De Haan, F. 1999. 'Evidentialty and epistemic modality: Setting boundaries.' Southwest Journal of Linguistics, 18, 83-102.
DeLancey, S. 1997. 'Mirativity: the grammatical marking of unexpected information', Linguistic Typology, 1, 33-52.
Lazard, G. 199. 'Mirativity, evidentiality, mediativity, or other?' Linguistic Typology, 3, 91-110.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER Kamil Deen is an assistant professor in Linguistics at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. His interests are in the acquisition of child language, with a particular focus on the acquisition of understudied languages and typologically unusual languages. His interests also include the syntax and semantics of tense, aspect, mood, modality and evidentiality.