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Review of  Evidentiality

Reviewer: Kamil Ud Deen
Book Title: Evidentiality
Book Author: Sorry, No Book Author Data Available!
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Syntax
Cognitive Science
Anthropological Linguistics
Issue Number: 16.2547

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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.

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.

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