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Review of  Evidentials and Relevance

Reviewer: Stanka A. Fitneva
Book Title: Evidentials and Relevance
Book Author: Elly Ifantidou
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Issue Number: 13.1976

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Date: Thu, 25 Jul 2002 12:22:47 -0400
From: Stanka A. Fitneva
Subject: Ifanitidou (2001) Evidentials and Relevance

Ifantidou, Elly (2001) Evidentials and Relevance. John Benjamins Publishing Company, x+225pp, hardback ISBN 1-58811-302-X, $73.00, Pragmatics & Beyond New Series, 86.

Stanka A. Fitneva, Cornell University

Since its inception, relevance theory has established itself as a major theory in pragmatics. This book expands the domain of application of the theory into the universe of evidentials.

Infantidou defines evidentials broadly. She includes under this term both the marking of the source of knowledge (as in "I SEE him coming") and the speaker's commitment to the truth of what is being said (as in "I GUESS he is coming"). Any form conveying such meanings is considered an evidential: words (as above), morphemes (not available in English), intonation patterns (a declarative sentence by itself implies the commitment of the speaker to what is said).

Infantidou sets out to answer three questions about evidentials:

1. What is the scope of pragmatic inference in deriving evidential meaning relative to decoding this meaning?

2. Is the meaning of evidentials truth-conditional?

3. Is evidential information implicitly or explicitly communicated?

Each of these questions is central to the study of meaning. Putting them together and identifying a single theory - the relevance framework - that can provide answers to all of them is a major contribution of the monograph.

With these questions as the backdrop, Infantidou reviews the relevant aspects of pre-Gricean speech-act theory (Chapter 2), Gricean theory (Chapter 3), and relevance theory (Chapter 4). Special attention is given the tools developed by each one that are relevant to the goals of the study. In the subsequent chapters, Infantidou applies these tools to sentence adverbials (Chapter 5), parenthetical expressions (Chapter 6), and evidential particles (Chapter 7). The examples of adverbials (e.g., OBVIOUSLY, the ball is over the line) and parentheticals (e.g., The ball, I THINK, is over the line) are drawn from English. The evidential particle is from Greek: "taha" (it seems).

The author's analysis unveils inadequacies in the speech- act and Gricean conceptual repertoires. Sometimes these inadequacies lead to lack of explanation of the properties of evidentials, sometimes to wrong predictions about these properties. In contrast, the analysis quite plainly demonstrates the power and elegance of the conceptual tools of relevance theory. The notions of explicature, conceptual vs. procedural meaning, and descriptive vs. interpretative use of utterances, uniquely present in the relevance framework, serve to develop satisfactory answers to the questions the author had asked.

Infantidou concludes that evidential and hearsay adverbials are truth-conditional and contribute to the explicit aspect of communication. Parenthetical expressions, on the other hand, do not contribute to the truth conditions of the utterance but are again part of explicit communication. Finally, particles are truth-conditional and contribute to the explicit aspect of communication (just like hearsay and evidential adverbials). For all expressions, pragmatic inference plays a major role in their interpretation (e.g., the strength of an assertion with the parenthetical "I think" depends on who the speaker is.)

The monograph, an outgrowth of the author's dissertation work, is directed to a professional audience and would be of special interest to those working on evidentiality and the semantics-pragmatics interface. It reviews exhaustively the relevant theoretical issues and meticulously assesses the linguistic materials. Overall, evidentiality researchers may have to make a larger stretch than semanticists and pragmatists in reading the book.

Some of the author's choices, though, might puzzle any reader. For example, she dedicates three chapters on the three theoretical frameworks and then analyzes the linguistic material within each framework. Predictably, this has lead to some cumbersomeness in the presentation. Another example is in the discussion of adverbials where she uses "evidential" as a class and a superclass label. (Infantidou writes about attitudinal, illocutionary, evidential, and hearsay adverbials. But all of them seem to be evidential according to the author's definition!)

I want to make two further remarks: one on the scope of the definition of evidentials and the other one on the scope of the research conclusions. Both require the author's clarification.

The book starts by defining its research domain, evidentials, rather broadly. Infantidou's analysis though suggests that evidential constructions differ at least in their contribution to the truth-conditional meaning of utterances. Given this difference, one might question the initial decision to treat evidentiality broadly. Infantidou however does not examine her initial assumptions in the light of this finding. Note that other researchers suggest narrowing the definition of the term and segregating the meanings and forms Infantidou puts under the same umbrella. For example, Scott DeLancey (1997, 2001) argues that the speaker's confirmation of the truth of the statement is a category separate from the marking of information source and he calls the former "mirativity."

With regard to the second issue, the scope of the research conclusions, the monograph does not meet the expectation set up by the definition of evidentiality that the topics of pragmatic inference, truth-conditionality, and communicative explicitness would be discussed relative to the broad base of facts about the various evidential meanings and constructions in the world languages. How revealing is the analysis of English adverbials and parentheticals, and the Greek particle "taha" vis-a-vis the properties of evidentials in other languages? Should we expect that analogous evidential constructions in other languages share the semantic/pragmatic characteristics of the studied constructions? Infantidou's answer is not clear. A clear position, even without evidence, would have helped frame the discourse between the present work and the researchers working on evidentiality in other languages.

DeLancey, S. (1997) Mirativity: The grammatical marking of unexpected information. Linguistic Typology 1(1), 33-52.

DeLancey, S. (2001) The mirative and evidentiality. Journal of Pragmatics, 3, 369-382.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER Stanka Fitneva is a graduate student at Cornell University working on evidentiality and sentence processing.