LINGUIST List 32.2053

Mon Jun 14 2021

Review: Semantics; Typology: Bergqvist, Kittilä (2020)

Editor for this issue: Jeremy Coburn <>

Date: 04-Mar-2021
From: Sune Gregersen <>
Subject: Evidentiality, egophoricity and engagement
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Book announced at

EDITOR: Henrik Bergqvist
EDITOR: Seppo Kittilä
TITLE: Evidentiality, egophoricity and engagement
SERIES TITLE: Studies in Diversity Linguistics
PUBLISHER: Language Science Press
YEAR: 2020

REVIEWER: Sune Gregersen, University of Copenhagen


This volume contains nine contributions on topics relating to knowledge and epistemicity in language. As the editors of the book note in the introduction, there is an abundant literature on epistemic modality in the languages of the world, but in the past few decades a number of related functional categories have attracted increasing attention. The contributions to “Evidentiality, egophoricity, and engagement” all deal with one or more of these notions in a variety of languages, the majority of them from South America or South Asia. The language families represented in the volume are Quechuan, Barbacoan, Cariban, Tibeto-Burman, Trans–New Guinean, and Indo-European (one Romance and two Indo-Aryan languages).

The introductory chapter by Henrik Bergqvist and Seppo Kittilä is entitled “Epistemic perspectives: Evidentiality, egophoricity, and engagement”. This introduces and defines the central conceptual categories to be treated in the volume and discusses the connections between them. The best known of these is probably evidentiality, which is typically defined as the grammaticalized expression of the source of the speaker’s knowledge (e.g. Willett 1988; Bybee et al. 1994: 95; Aikhenvald 2004). Bergqvist and Kittilä here suggest a slightly different perspective where evidential marking is seen first and foremost as a kind of “disclaimer of epistemic authority” (p. 8). This, according to the authors, may better accommodate the so-called participatory uses of evidential markers, which have been observed in some languages where evidentials can be used to express the speaker’s deliberate participation (or involvement) in the state of affairs rather than any epistemic source. The second central term is egophoricity, also known as conjunct–disjunct marking, which refers to the marking of the epistemic authority of one of the speech act participants. Egophoric markers prototypically occur with first-person subjects in declarative clauses and with second-person subjects in questions, as discussed in several of the contributions to the volume (for a comprehensive overview of this phenomenon see also San Roque et al. 2018). The third central notion, engagement, also concerns the epistemic authority of the speech act participants. Engagement markers, as defined by the editors, are used to express whether knowledge is assumed to be exclusive to one of the speech act participants or shared between them. They illustrate this with a set of prefixes in Kogi (Chibchan, Colombia) with meanings such as ‘the speaker knows e and expects the addressee to be unaware of e’ and ‘the speaker knows e and expects the addressee to know e too’. The editors conclude the chapter with a note on the dialogic nature of the phenomena under investigation and the importance of interactive language data.

The introduction is followed by seven case studies of individual languages (Chapters 2–8) and one final—more theoretical—contribution (Chapter 9) with examples from a number of languages.

In Chapter 2, “Epistemic primacy, Common Ground management, and epistemic perspective”, Karolina Grzech investigates the discourse functions of two clitics in Upper Napo Kichwa, a Quechuan language of Ecuador. The clitics in question, =mi and =cha, have cognates in other Quechuan languages where they are usually analyzed as evidential markers. Grzech shows that this analysis cannot be carried over to Upper Napo Kichwa. Rather, Upper Napo Kichwa =mi and =cha are markers of relative “epistemic primacy”: =mi indicates that one of the interlocutors has a stronger claim to knowledge of the proposition; in declarative statements this is the speaker, in interrogatives it is the addressee, and the clitic thus appears to have an egophoric distribution (though, curiously, Grzech does not apply this term to it). The clitic =cha, on the other hand, indicates that the speaker has a “lack of epistemic primacy” (p. 44). This marker apparently only occurs in rhetorical questions, true interrogatives, and expressions of doubt. Grzech finally considers the association of these epistemic clitics with (contrastive and information) focus, which she attributes to their role in the management of the Common Ground of the interlocutors.

Chapter 3, “Egophoricity, engagement, and the centring of subjectivity” by Alan Rumsey, discusses three distributional patterns in Ku Waru (Trans–New Guinean, New Guinea Highlands) which in some respects resemble “canonical” cases of egophoricity. The first of these is the first-person singular “optative” marker, which in declaratives means ‘I want to …’, but which shifts its origo from first to second person in interrogative contexts (i.e. in questions it means ‘do you want me to …?’ rather than ‘do I want to …?’). The second pattern is “address inversion”, where an adult will address a child with the term the child would use for the adult, e.g. an uncle will call his niece ‘uncle’. The third and final phenomenon also concerns child-directed speech, namely “prompting routines” where the adult will speak from the child’s point of view in order for the child to repeat the utterance. Rumsey argues that while these patterns may not all be instances of egophoricity proper, they share with it a shift in the “centring of subjectivity” between the speech act participants. He then briefly discusses an excerpt of a Ku Waru conversation as an example of joint attention between the speech act participants, pointing out how this “intersubjective coordination” differs from the subjectivity shifts discussed earlier in the chapter.

Jonathon Lum proposes “An egophoric analysis of Dhivehi verbal morphology” (Chapter 4). This chapter first gives a concise and lucidly written sketch of the sociolinguistic situation and typological profile of Dhivehi (Southern Indo-Aryan), the native language of the Maldives. Lum then surveys earlier analyses of person marking in Dhivehi, showing how these accounts differ from each other and leave a number of distributional facts unexplained. He then offers his own analysis, which is that the “first/second-person” suffixes in earlier accounts are really egophoric markers, used with first-person subjects in declarative clauses and second-person subjects in questions. In addition, they are used when the speech act participants refer to themselves or each other in the third person (e.g. in child-directed speech or for reasons of politeness), which would be unexpected if the suffixes were person markers. Dhivehi differs from “canonical” egophoric systems, however, by also allowing the egophoric suffix in questions with first-person subjects, though there appears to be some variation in this: for some speakers the egophoric marker is the only option in such contexts, whereas at least one consultant accepted both the egophoric and alterphoric (i.e. non-egophoric) marker. As Lum notes, this variation may reflect language change in progress as well as “the difficulties of eliciting such an unusual (and pragmatically marked) sentence type” as first-person interrogatives (p. 144). Lum goes on to discuss dialectal differences within Dhivehi, showing that certain dialects have preserved an older person-marking system, and sketches a possible scenario for the development of the egophoric system out of this.

In Chapter 5, “Emerging epistemic marking in Indo-Aryan Palula”, Henrik Liljegren surveys the expression of epistemic and evidential meaning in Palula, a distant cousin of Dhivehi spoken in northern Pakistan. Rather than a single evidential system (e.g. a closed set of evidential affixes or particles), this language has several strategies “scattered” across the grammar. Liljegren presents three such strategies: the use of certain tense-aspect forms, in particular the Perfect, to express indirect evidence; three utterance-final particles with quotative, hearsay, and inferential meaning, respectively; and the second-position clitic =xu, which expresses surprise or emphasis (though only an example of the former function is given). He then discusses a number of similarities with evidential expressions in neighbouring languages, including members of all three major branches of Indo-Iranian, and suggests that these are most likely due to areal convergence and borrowing.

“On the existence of egophoricity across clause types in Totoró Namtrik” (Chapter 6) by Geny Gonzales Castaño presents an account of egophoric marking in a highly endangered Barbacoan dialect spoken in Colombia. Gonzales Castaño argues that this dialect, Totoró Namtrik, has a system of egophoric markers similar to those observed in other Barbacoan languages, but that this is obscured by two regular morphophonological processes, vowel deletion and deletion of final consonants in interrogative clauses. These processes effectively delete the egophoric markers in certain verb forms, meaning that the phenomenon is often “invisible” in interrogative clauses. The author then explores the distribution of egophoric and non-egophoric markers in different clause types, also pointing to an “undergoer” suffix -t which appears to have an egophoric distribution. In declarative clauses the suffix is used if the speaker “is in some way affected by the situation described in the clause” (p. 190), while in interrogative clauses it appears if the addressee is affected by the state of affairs.

In Chapter 7, Ellen B. Basso discusses “Interpersonal alignments and epistemic marking in Kalapalo (Southern Cariban, Brazil)”. This detailed and rather dense contribution describes an elaborate system of epistemic and evidential markers in the Cariban language Kalapalo, spoken in the Alto Xingu region in Mato Grosso, Brazil. More than two dozen particles and clitics are described, expressing such notions as inference, the speaker’s doubt or uncertainty, hearsay information, mirativity, epistemic possibility, and knowledge shared between the speaker and the addressee. These epistemic and evidential markers are grouped into six “sets” (A–F) on the basis of their semantic and pragmatic properties. The author gives copious examples from traditional narratives and ritual speech, arguing that some of the attested markers would not have been identified through elicitation or in a corpus only consisting of everyday conversations.

Chapter 8, by Geraldine Quartararo, is entitled “Epistemic uses of the pretérito pluscuamperfecto in La Paz Spanish”. Here the interaction of tense and evidentiality is explored in a South American contact variety, namely Spanish as spoken by Aymara–Spanish bilinguals in La Paz, Bolivia. In a self-compiled corpus of spoken language, the author investigates the uses of the “pretérito pluscuamperfecto”, which is superficially similar to the English pluperfect (a past-tense form of the auxiliary “haber” ‘have’ plus a past participle) but has a number of distinct uses. Quartararo identifies three separate functions of this form in La Paz Spanish, which can be labelled ‘evidential’: reportative, mirative, and inferential. According to the author, only the first two of these have so far been reported in South American varieties of Spanish, whereas the third has not been described before. While she notes that it is not always possible to tell the inferential and mirative functions apart, the material does contain several unambiguous instances of inferential meaning (e.g. “había tenido dos hijos” ‘s/he must have had two children’, lit. ‘(s/he) had had two children’, p. 253).

Finally, Chapter 9 by Manuel Widmer is titled “Same same but different: On the relationship between egophoricity and evidentiality”. As the title indicates, the topic of this contribution is egophoricity and evidentiality and the way these two categories relate to one another. While some have argued that egophoricity is a type of evidentiality, others view the two as distinct (if closely related) functional categories. Widmer first surveys a number of different approaches to egophoricity in the literature: authors who treat it as a kind of person marking, authors who see it as a form of evidential marking, and “non-evidential epistemic approaches” where egophoricity is seen as an epistemic category separate from evidentiality (cf. also the survey in San Roque et al. 2018: 48–65). Different types of egophoric systems are then considered, with examples drawn mainly from Tibeto-Burman languages. Widmer distinguishes between binary egophoric systems with only two values (e.g. ‘egophoric’ vs. ‘allophoric’/non-egophoric in Kathmandu Newar) and more complex systems where an egophoric marker is contrasted with more than one evidential (e.g. ‘egophoric’ vs. ‘direct evidential’ vs. ‘indirect evidential’ in Lhasa Tibetan). A case is then made for an “independent” status of egophoricity on the basis of Bunan (Tibeto-Burman, northern India), where a binary system in the present tense is combined with a ternary system in the past, and Tsafiki (Barbacoan, Ecuador), where egophoricity and inferential evidentiality are separate morphological categories. Widmer compares the distinction between egophoricity and evidentiality to tense and aspect, which are also frequently intertwined in the world’s languages, but which most linguists would agree should be treated as separate analytical categories.


It is a privilege to be allowed to review such an excellent and well-edited volume. The individual chapters in “Evidentiality, egophoricity, and engagement” all clearly relate to the central theme of the book, and several of them are outstanding contributions in their own right which deserve to be read by a wide linguistic audience. In addition to this, most of the chapters contribute to the description of lesser-known languages and dialects, some of them either at risk or severely endangered (see e.g. Grzech, p. 25, and Gonzales Castaño, p. 166).

A couple of contributions merit special mention here. Karolina Grzech’s description of a system of “epistemic primacy” marking in Upper Napo Kichwa and Jonathon Lum’s account of egophoricity in Dhivehi not only provide interesting data for typologists working on egophoric and epistemic markers, but also offer novel analyses which should be of great interest to scholars of Quechuan and Indo-Aryan languages. I leave it to specialists of these languages to evaluate the specific proposals made in the papers, but both of them present the evidence in a clear and transparent way which should make it straightforward for other scholars to engage with them. The same can be said of Manuel Widmer’s very readable discussion of the relationship between egophoricity and evidentiality, which will be relevant to anyone working on either or both of these phenomena.

In a few cases the volume could have been made more coherent by adhering to the same terminology or at least being more explicit about similarities and differences between the individual chapters. As mentioned in passing above, one of the Upper Napo Kichwa clitics discussed in Grzech’s contribution seems to have an egophoric distribution, but this term is not actually used in the chapter itself. In the introduction, however, Bergqvist and Kittilä do discuss the Upper Napo Kichwa clitics as an example of a development from evidential to egophoric markers (“a set of evidential markers […] have developed egophoric semantics”, p. 5), but it is not stated whether this is only the editors’ interpretation of the facts or whether Grzech also endorses it. Moreover, the editors seem to imply that both of the Upper Napo Kichwa clitics are egophoric markers, but at least to this reader it is not obvious why the clitic =cha as presented in Grzech’s chapter is an example of this phenomenon—as Grzech notes expressly, =cha “does not partake in origo shift” (p. 45) of the kind discussed in the introduction. Here some more explicit argumentation would have been welcome.

Also concerning egophoricity, it is noted more than once in the volume that there is no agreement among scholars about what to call the opposite of ‘egophoric’ (see pp. 101, 264–265). The same goes for the volume itself, one might add. The terms ‘alterphoric’ (Lum), ‘non-egophoric’ (Gonzales Castaño), and ‘allophoric’ (Bergqvist and Kittilä; Widmer) are all used to refer to (ostensibly) the same notion, so here the editors have obviously chosen to respect the terminological preferences of the individual authors. While there is no fault in this, it does mean that the volume misses an opportunity to propose a more unified terminology. (Note also Widmer’s statement on pp. 263–264 that egophoricity has so far only been attested “in the Himalayas, the Caucasus, South America and Papua New Guinea”—this overlooks the strong case made earlier in the volume for adding the Maldives to the list.)

Of the three notions included in the title of the volume, evidentiality and egophoricity receive by far the most attention. There are no contributions dealing specifically with the type of engagement markers discussed in the introduction (pp. 12–15), though several chapters touch on issues relating to joint attention and shared vs. non-shared information. Alan Rumsey briefly mentions a set of engagement markers in Ku Waru at the end of his chapter (with meanings such as ‘… which you and I know about’ and ‘… which I know about but you may not’, p. 84), but appears to use the term ‘engagement’ in a broader sense, referring to any kind of intersubjective coordination. (It does not help that the author never defines the term and usually writes it between scare quotes, leaving the reader without a clear idea of how it should be understood.) On the other hand, Ellen B. Basso mentions a number of morphemes in Kalapalo (her “Sets E and F”) which seem to fit Bergqvist and Kittilä’s definition of engagement markers very well, but does not discuss them under this heading—the term ‘engagement’ is only used twice in the chapter, the first time (p. 200) between scare quotes and the second time (p. 213) obviously not in a technical sense. On a related note, the “assumptive” markers in Bunan mentioned by Widmer (p. 277) seem quite similar to the kind of engagement markers discussed by Bergqvist and Kittilä: one indicates that the speaker relies on knowledge which they consider “personal and intimate”, the other that the knowledge is assumed to be “equally accessible to other persons”. Perhaps Basso and Widmer have good reasons for not using the term ‘engagement’ to describe these Kalapalo and Bunan markers, but in that case one might have pointed out how they differ from the—apparently very similar—phenomena discussed in the introduction.

There are scattered typographical errors throughout (Chapter 7 in particular would have benefited from closer proofreading), but very few that interfere with the understanding of the contents. On p. 122 (last line), “an underlying epistemic system” should most likely read “an underlying egophoric system”. “Table 9.9” on p. 276 (first line) is certainly a typo for “Table 9.8”. However, the editing and typesetting of the volume actually look and feel more professional than what one gets with many commercial publishers, and is no less than superb considering the price of the ebook (€0). It should also be obvious that almost all of the critical remarks above concern fairly minor points, which do nothing to take away from the overall value of the volume. It will be of interest to anyone working on evidentiality, egophoricity, or the expression of knowledge in language more broadly.


Aikhenvald, Alexandra Y. 2004. Evidentiality. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Bergqvist, Henrik & Seppo Kittilä (eds.). 2020. Evidentiality, egophoricity, and engagement (Studies in Diversity Linguistics 30). Berlin: Language Science Press.

Bybee, Joan, Revere Perkins & William Pagliuca. 1994. The evolution of grammar: Tense, aspect, and modality in the languages of the world. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

San Roque, Lila, Simeon Floyd & Elisabeth Norcliffe. 2018. Egophoricity: An introduction. In Simeon Floyd, Elisabeth Norcliffe & Lila San Roque (eds.), Egophoricity (Typological Studies in Language 118), 1–77. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Willett, Thomas. 1988. A cross-linguistic survey of the grammaticization of evidentiality. Studies in Language 12(1). 51–97.


Sune Gregersen defended his dissertation “Early English modals: Form, function, and analogy” at the University of Amsterdam in 2020. He is currently a research assistant at the Department of Nordic Studies and Linguistics at the University of Copenhagen. Apart from Germanic historical linguistics, his research interests include the diachrony of (non-canonical) argument marking, the history of linguistics, and tense, mood, aspect, and evidentiality across languages.

Page Updated: 14-Jun-2021