LINGUIST List 22.3049

Fri Jul 29 2011

Review: Typology: Diewald and Smirnova (2010)

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        1.     Karolien Janssens , Linguistic Realization of Evidentiality in European Languages

Message 1: Linguistic Realization of Evidentiality in European Languages
Date: 29-Jul-2011
From: Karolien Janssens <>
Subject: Linguistic Realization of Evidentiality in European Languages
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EDITORS: Diewald, Gabriele and Smirnova, ElenaTITLE: Linguistic Realization of Evidentiality in European LanguagesSERIES TITLE: Empirical Approaches to Language Typology [EALT] 49PUBLISHER: De Gruyter MoutonYEAR: 2010

Karolien Janssens; Center for Grammar, Cognition and Typology; University of Antwerp


This collection of papers is based on presentations given at the workshop ''Thelinguistic realization of evidentiality in European languages'', held at theAnnual Convention of the German Society of Linguistics in 2008. In theirintroduction, Gabriele Diewald and Elena Smirnova define evidentiality as: ''theexplicit encoding of a source of information or knowledge (i.e. evidence) whichthe speaker claims to have made use of for producing the primary proposition ofthe utterance'' (p. 1). They point out two main issues which are addressed inthis volume. First of all, the authors are all concerned with the definition ofevidentiality in Aikhenvald 2004. Aikhenvald considers evidential markers to begrammatical markers and argues that European languages do not possess suchevidentials. She acknowledges that European languages do exhibit evidentialstrategies, consisting of lexical expressions of evidentiality. In contrast, theauthors in this book consider lexical evidentials as true evidentials and arguethat ''grammatical systems develop'', and that ''grammaticalization implies bynecessity that forms are not yet fully grammaticalized'' (p. 4). A few paperseven call attention to grammatical evidentials in European languages. The secondmain issue is the relationship between evidentiality and epistemic modality.Evidentiality is regarded as a semantic-functional domain in its own right andnot as a component of epistemic modality. These two issues obviously obscure thedefinition of evidentiality.

Types of verbal evidentiality marking: an overview, by Vladimir A. Plungian

In this paper, Plungian gives an overview of the history of evidentialitystudies and of the main language areas in which evidentiality is expressedgrammatically by means of verbs. He develops a taxonomy of evidential values andevidential systems which is based on typological research on these grammaticalevidentials. The central oppositions in the taxonomy of evidential values aredirect/indirect and personal/non-personal. The taxonomy is an enhancement of theones established in Willett 1988 and Aikhenvald 2004. In addition, the authorfocuses on the position of evidentiality in the verbal system, with specialattention to evidentiality in relation to person and modality. Plungian opts fora distinction between modalized and non-modalized evidential systems.

Hearsay in European languages: toward an integrative account of grammatical andlexical marking, by Björn Wiemer

Wiemer is concerned with markers of reportivity (hearsay), a subcategory ofevidentiality. He divides the different morphological expressions of thissubcategory into lexical and grammatical ones. Thus, he clearly disagrees withAikhenvald's strict definition of evidentiality as a grammatical domain. On thegrammar side, he places inflectional and agglutinated expressions ofevidentiality, together with functional extensions of TAM paradigms. Auxiliariesand predicatives are placed in between grammar and lexicon. In this group, themodal auxiliaries of necessity constitute the area of merger betweenevidentiality and epistemic modality. On the side of the lexicon, he discussesthe formal (scope) and pragmatic properties of particles, parentheticals,conjunctions and adpositions. The study of these forms reveals certain arealtendencies. The author also observes that many markers are not reportive unitsper se. Instead, they are characterized as expressing general indirectevidentiality. The paper concludes with the hypothesis that ''the lack ofdiscrimination between these two domains, is the result of a slow transitionfrom inferential to reportive meaning'' (p. 115).

Information source in Spanish and Basque: a parallel corpus study, by Asier Alcázar

Alcázar investigates evidentiality in a Spanish-to-Basque parallel corpus andargues that Basque possesses a grammatical evidential system and Spanishdisplays evidential strategies in the sense of Aikhenvald 2004. He claims thatthe Basque particle ''omen'' is a grammatical evidential on the basis of manyfeatures. An important property of ''omen'' is, for example, its frequent use.''Omen'' becomes more and more obligatory in Basque and it is used when there isno evidential expression in the Spanish original. Furthermore, ''omen'' canexpress epistemic modality alongside evidentiality. Not every evidentialparticle in Basque can express epistemic modality. Thus, epistemic modality mayor may not arise out of evidentiality. Another important observation is that''omen'' is restricted to sentential scope. This property may lead translators touse other evidential expressions when the scope is not sentential or when it isambiguous. In these circumstances, they can use adverbs or parentheticals. Thismakes Basque an example of a language in which lexical and grammaticalevidential expressions work together.

Embedding evidentials in German, by Mathias Schenner

This paper has a formal semantic approach to evidentiality, and in particular,to evidentials in embedding. By defining evidentiality as a formally broad and asemantically narrow domain, Schenner does not agree with Aikhenvald's notion ofevidentiality as a grammatical category and keeps evidentiality and epistemicmodality strictly separate. Yet, he acknowledges that the two domains arerelated because ''information will have a high degree of subjective probability(epistemic modality) if it stems from a highly reliable source token(evidentiality), judged by the speaker'' (p. 160). The paper further focuses onthe use of the German reportive evidential ''sollen'' in embedding. Thisexploration counters the argument that evidentials are unembeddable. It turnsout that the type of predicate in the matrix clause has an influence on the typeof meaning of embedded ''sollen''.

Embedding indirective (evidential) utterances in Turkish, by Hatice Coşkun

Like the previous author, Coşkun shows that evidentials do appear insubordinated clauses. They can appear in finite, but not in non-finite,subordinate clauses in Turkish. The evidential in finite subordinate clausesexpresses indirectivity, but it does not specify whether the information sourceis reportive, inferential or perceptional. The source is determined by context.This is illustrated with the suffix/clitic ''-(y)mIş'', which is examined indifferent finite subordinated environments. The type of indirectivity depends onthe type of subordination (adverbial or complement clause), the type ofsubordinating predicate or the type of complementizer. What is more, there isinteraction between complementizer and other contextual elements (e.g. the(non-)factivity of the matrix verb). Finally, the discourse context affects theindirectivity of ''-(y)mIş'', and it can bring dubitative or emotional distancemeanings to the fore. This is where epistemic modality comes into play.

Epistemic modality and evidentiality and their determination on a deictic basis:the case of Romance languages, by Gerda Haßler

In this paper, evidentiality is defined as a deictic category, against thebackground of previous research on evidentiality as an interactional phenomenon.Evidentials are deictic because reference to elements outside the linguisticcontext (source of information and speaker) is made. Evidential expressions cometo exist dialogically, because the hearer or reader is ''a reference to thesource of information'' (p. 239). Contrastively, epistemic modality''monologically contributes the epistemic stance of the author'' (p. 239). Thus,deixis is a tool to distinguish evidentiality and epistemic modality. Bystudying evidential adverbs in Romance languages and the Spanish imperfect,Haßler describes the deictic sphere of evidentials. In addition, she focuses onthe way in which evidentials evolve from the lexical meaning of 'directvisibility' to evidential functions (and vice versa) and on how they obtain moreprocedural meanings.

Evidentiality, polysemy, and verbs of perception in English and German, byRichard Jason Whitt

Whitt’s paper explores evidentiality in verbs of perception. These verbs can bedivided into object-oriented verbs (grammatical subject is object of perception)and subject-oriented verbs (grammatical subject is perceiver). These twocategories are limited to specific construction types. What is more, the formerare often used evidentially with a variety of subjects whereas the latter onlyexpress evidentiality with first-person subject. The verbs also displaypolysemy. The author focuses on the English verb ''see'' and the German equivalent''sehen''. He describes the most widely attested constructions in which theseverbs appear and observes restrictions on their polysemy, depending on the typeof construction.

Evidential markers in French scientific writing: the case of the French verbvoir, by Francis Grossman and Agnès Tutin

In this paper, the evidentiality of the perceptive verb ''voir'' in a corpus ofFrench scientific writing is analysed. The authors identify five main meaningsof this verb and point out the prototypical structure for each of them. ''Voir''as a statement marker expresses inference through simple observation. ''Voir'' canalso be used as a reference marker to indicate intratextual and intertextualreferences. In addition to these two evidential uses of ''voir'', the verb oftenexpresses non-evidentiality. It can be used in the sense of 'to examine' and itcan express an opinion. These five senses are examined in a corpus compiled fromwritings in the field of economics and linguistics. In the linguistics corpus,the statement markers constitute the majority of the cases, while in economicstexts, intertextual inferences take the lead. In these texts, the cognitive(reasoning) meaning of ''voir'' seems to be inextricably entwined with theevidential function.

An interactional approach to epistemic and evidential adverbs in Spanishconversation, by Bert Cornillie

Spanish epistemic and evidential adverbs in conversation are the topic of thispaper. Some of these adverbs do more than express epistemic and evidentialqualifications. For example, the epistemic adverbial phrase ''a lo mejor'' isoften used to achieve alignment with the co-participant. It asks for ahypothesis to be confirmed or refuted. It can also express a confirmation ofsomething that has already been said in the previous turn. According to theauthor, ''a lo mejor'' is an epistemic adverbial phrase with an inferentialdimension (evidential). Pure epistemic adverbs, like ''quizá'', cannot acquiresuch a conversational dimension. In contrast, the evidential adverb''evidentemente'' is involved in the on-line planning of the interaction, as itsignals that the speaker wants to keep the turn to defend his/her idea.Cornillie argues that this proves that ''evidentemente'' involves inference fromreasoning, not reasoning from sensorial, visual or auditive sources butreasoning as part of the discourse planning.

Revelative evidentiality in European languages: linguistic marking and itsanthropological background, by Alexandra Kratschmer and Adriënne Heijnen

This paper shows how the study of a subcategory of evidentiality, revelativeevidentiality, can benefit from the cooperation of linguistics and anthropology.Revelative evidentiality is a term used to refer to dream accounts. The authorslook at bible extracts of the dreams in Joseph's story (Old Testament, Genesis37-44) in different European languages through history. On the basis of theseresults, they present an overview of linguistic markers used to expressrevelative evidentiality. Expressions of epistemic modality seem to play animportant role. The bible texts also reveal a diachronic development concerningthe subject's participation in dreams, from experiencer of the dream in dativeconstructions to owner and eventually, to creator of the dream. This diachronicdevelopment is confirmed by a study of interviews of Icelandic, German andItalian native speakers. In addition, the authors note the importance ofinteractional approaches to evidentiality. All these observations find supportin ethnographic data. The way in which languages express dreams linguisticallyis in line with the way the speakers of these languages conceive dreaming (ascoming from an external, higher source or not).


This work is an important contribution to the study of evidentiality. Itconvincingly shows the necessity of studying evidentiality in Europeanlanguages, thereby acknowledging the importance of lexical evidentials and theexistence of grammatical evidentials in these languages. The volume encouragesfurther research on evidentials. Especially the two general contributions ofVladimir Plungian and Björn Wiemer offer a good framework to analyzeevidentials. All the papers taken together give a detailed picture of thecomplex semantic field of evidentiality. Epistemic modality and evidentialityare neatly separated from one another, and the specific connections betweenthese two domains are described very clearly. The book offers interestingdiscussions about this strict distinction and refers to differing views inprevious work on the subject (e.g. Chafe and Nichols 1986). Another importantcontribution is the focus on evidentiality from an interactional and a deicticpoint of view. These approaches offer useful tools to help define the notionitself and to discover extra-evidential meanings.

However, the quality of the contributions varies. Some observations are rathersuperfluous while others are not treated in sufficient detail. For example, thedifference between the lexical meaning and the evidential function of a word issometimes described only in a vague manner, which obscures the notion ofevidentiality itself. The Spanish ''aparentemente'' is said to have a lexicalmeaning and an evidential function. But in my opinion, a lexical meaning canalready display an evidential function. Furthermore, the discussion aboutperceptive verbs involves a circular argument. Object-oriented andsubject-oriented verbs are connected to specific constructions. However, in thedefinitions of these two types of perceptive verbs, the constructions arealready implicitly included. In subject-oriented verbs, the grammatical subjectis the perceiver and, hence, these verbs appear in transitive constructions bydefinition ('I see the house burning'). In object-oriented perception verbs, thesubject is the object of perception and, accordingly, this type appears inintransitive constructions ('Karen looks sick'). A general remark has to do withthe definition of inferential evidentiality. The authors differ in theirdescriptions of this type of evidentiality, which may confuse the reader. Forsome, inferential evidentiality is ''pure reasoning on the basis of indirectevidence or personal experiences'' (p. 192) (how to understand this indirectevidence is not always clear) but, for others, the basis of this type ofreasoning can involve the perception of traces or consequences of a previous event.

Furthermore, it would have been interesting if some authors had paid moreattention to diachronic evolutions. Alexandra Kratschmer and Adriënne Heijnen dotake a diachronic point of view in their linguistic and anthropological study,but the study of the relationship between epistemic modality and evidentialitytoo could benefit from this approach. Many authors hint at evolution in theirpapers by looking at the etymology of the word or by pointing at the relationsbetween different meanings (and constructions). Björn Wiemer even points out theevidential extensions of perfects or TAM paradigms. However, a detailedhistorical examination is missing. This type of study might shed more light onsemantic relations or on the conventionalization of extra-evidential (pragmatic)meanings.

The final remarks concern the lay-out. The book contains quite a fewtypographical errors and some tables lack legends, which makes theinterpretation difficult. However, the overall structure of the book is veryhandy. The papers at the beginning give a general idea of the notion ofevidentiality and the other papers provide a more detailed, language-specificperspective.

In sum, despite some unclear observations or unnecessary descriptions, thisvolume will certainly be useful to researchers in the field of evidentiality andmodality. It covers previous research and points out new, interesting areas ofresearch.


Aikhenvald, A. 2004. Evidentiality (Oxford Linguistics). Oxford: OxfordUniversity Press.

Chafe, W. and Nichols J. (eds.) 1986. Evidentiality: The Linguistic Coding ofEpistemology (Advances in discourse processes XX). Norwood, New Jersey: Ablex.

Willet, Thomas L. 1988. A cross-linguistic survey of the grammaticalization ofevidentiality. Studies in Language 12(1). 51-97.


Karolien Janssens is a PhD student in Linguistics, affiliated to the Center for Grammar, Cognition and Typology of the University of Antwerp. Her interests include grammaticalization, (inter)subjectification and modality, with a focus on the diachronic development of the mental state predicates in Dutch.

Page Updated: 29-Jul-2011