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Review of  Linguistic Realization of Evidentiality in European Languages

Reviewer: Karolien Janssens
Book Title: Linguistic Realization of Evidentiality in European Languages
Book Author: Gabriele Diewald Elena Smirnova
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Philosophy of Language
Issue Number: 22.3049

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EDITORS: Diewald, Gabriele and Smirnova, Elena
TITLE: Linguistic Realization of Evidentiality in European Languages
SERIES TITLE: Empirical Approaches to Language Typology [EALT] 49
PUBLISHER: De Gruyter Mouton
YEAR: 2010

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


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

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

In this paper, Plungian gives an overview of the history of evidentiality
studies and of the main language areas in which evidentiality is expressed
grammatically by means of verbs. He develops a taxonomy of evidential values and
evidential systems which is based on typological research on these grammatical
evidentials. The central oppositions in the taxonomy of evidential values are
direct/indirect and personal/non-personal. The taxonomy is an enhancement of the
ones established in Willett 1988 and Aikhenvald 2004. In addition, the author
focuses on the position of evidentiality in the verbal system, with special
attention to evidentiality in relation to person and modality. Plungian opts for
a distinction between modalized and non-modalized evidential systems.

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

Wiemer is concerned with markers of reportivity (hearsay), a subcategory of
evidentiality. He divides the different morphological expressions of this
subcategory into lexical and grammatical ones. Thus, he clearly disagrees with
Aikhenvald's strict definition of evidentiality as a grammatical domain. On the
grammar side, he places inflectional and agglutinated expressions of
evidentiality, together with functional extensions of TAM paradigms. Auxiliaries
and predicatives are placed in between grammar and lexicon. In this group, the
modal auxiliaries of necessity constitute the area of merger between
evidentiality and epistemic modality. On the side of the lexicon, he discusses
the formal (scope) and pragmatic properties of particles, parentheticals,
conjunctions and adpositions. The study of these forms reveals certain areal
tendencies. The author also observes that many markers are not reportive units
per se. Instead, they are characterized as expressing general indirect
evidentiality. The paper concludes with the hypothesis that ''the lack of
discrimination between these two domains, is the result of a slow transition
from 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 and
argues that Basque possesses a grammatical evidential system and Spanish
displays evidential strategies in the sense of Aikhenvald 2004. He claims that
the Basque particle ''omen'' is a grammatical evidential on the basis of many
features. 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 is
no evidential expression in the Spanish original. Furthermore, ''omen'' can
express epistemic modality alongside evidentiality. Not every evidential
particle in Basque can express epistemic modality. Thus, epistemic modality may
or may not arise out of evidentiality. Another important observation is that
''omen'' is restricted to sentential scope. This property may lead translators to
use other evidential expressions when the scope is not sentential or when it is
ambiguous. In these circumstances, they can use adverbs or parentheticals. This
makes Basque an example of a language in which lexical and grammatical
evidential 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 a
semantically narrow domain, Schenner does not agree with Aikhenvald's notion of
evidentiality as a grammatical category and keeps evidentiality and epistemic
modality strictly separate. Yet, he acknowledges that the two domains are
related 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 on
the use of the German reportive evidential ''sollen'' in embedding. This
exploration counters the argument that evidentials are unembeddable. It turns
out that the type of predicate in the matrix clause has an influence on the type
of meaning of embedded ''sollen''.

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

Like the previous author, Coşkun shows that evidentials do appear in
subordinated clauses. They can appear in finite, but not in non-finite,
subordinate clauses in Turkish. The evidential in finite subordinate clauses
expresses indirectivity, but it does not specify whether the information source
is reportive, inferential or perceptional. The source is determined by context.
This is illustrated with the suffix/clitic ''-(y)mIş'', which is examined in
different finite subordinated environments. The type of indirectivity depends on
the type of subordination (adverbial or complement clause), the type of
subordinating predicate or the type of complementizer. What is more, there is
interaction between complementizer and other contextual elements (e.g. the
(non-)factivity of the matrix verb). Finally, the discourse context affects the
indirectivity of ''-(y)mIş'', and it can bring dubitative or emotional distance
meanings 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 the
background of previous research on evidentiality as an interactional phenomenon.
Evidentials are deictic because reference to elements outside the linguistic
context (source of information and speaker) is made. Evidential expressions come
to exist dialogically, because the hearer or reader is ''a reference to the
source 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. By
studying evidential adverbs in Romance languages and the Spanish imperfect,
Haßler describes the deictic sphere of evidentials. In addition, she focuses on
the way in which evidentials evolve from the lexical meaning of 'direct
visibility' to evidential functions (and vice versa) and on how they obtain more
procedural meanings.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This paper shows how the study of a subcategory of evidentiality, revelative
evidentiality, can benefit from the cooperation of linguistics and anthropology.
Revelative evidentiality is a term used to refer to dream accounts. The authors
look at bible extracts of the dreams in Joseph's story (Old Testament, Genesis
37-44) in different European languages through history. On the basis of these
results, they present an overview of linguistic markers used to express
revelative evidentiality. Expressions of epistemic modality seem to play an
important role. The bible texts also reveal a diachronic development concerning
the subject's participation in dreams, from experiencer of the dream in dative
constructions to owner and eventually, to creator of the dream. This diachronic
development is confirmed by a study of interviews of Icelandic, German and
Italian native speakers. In addition, the authors note the importance of
interactional approaches to evidentiality. All these observations find support
in ethnographic data. The way in which languages express dreams linguistically
is in line with the way the speakers of these languages conceive dreaming (as
coming from an external, higher source or not).


This work is an important contribution to the study of evidentiality. It
convincingly shows the necessity of studying evidentiality in European
languages, thereby acknowledging the importance of lexical evidentials and the
existence of grammatical evidentials in these languages. The volume encourages
further research on evidentials. Especially the two general contributions of
Vladimir Plungian and Björn Wiemer offer a good framework to analyze
evidentials. All the papers taken together give a detailed picture of the
complex semantic field of evidentiality. Epistemic modality and evidentiality
are neatly separated from one another, and the specific connections between
these two domains are described very clearly. The book offers interesting
discussions about this strict distinction and refers to differing views in
previous work on the subject (e.g. Chafe and Nichols 1986). Another important
contribution is the focus on evidentiality from an interactional and a deictic
point of view. These approaches offer useful tools to help define the notion
itself and to discover extra-evidential meanings.

However, the quality of the contributions varies. Some observations are rather
superfluous while others are not treated in sufficient detail. For example, the
difference between the lexical meaning and the evidential function of a word is
sometimes described only in a vague manner, which obscures the notion of
evidentiality itself. The Spanish ''aparentemente'' is said to have a lexical
meaning and an evidential function. But in my opinion, a lexical meaning can
already display an evidential function. Furthermore, the discussion about
perceptive verbs involves a circular argument. Object-oriented and
subject-oriented verbs are connected to specific constructions. However, in the
definitions of these two types of perceptive verbs, the constructions are
already implicitly included. In subject-oriented verbs, the grammatical subject
is the perceiver and, hence, these verbs appear in transitive constructions by
definition ('I see the house burning'). In object-oriented perception verbs, the
subject is the object of perception and, accordingly, this type appears in
intransitive constructions ('Karen looks sick'). A general remark has to do with
the definition of inferential evidentiality. The authors differ in their
descriptions of this type of evidentiality, which may confuse the reader. For
some, inferential evidentiality is ''pure reasoning on the basis of indirect
evidence or personal experiences'' (p. 192) (how to understand this indirect
evidence is not always clear) but, for others, the basis of this type of
reasoning can involve the perception of traces or consequences of a previous event.

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

The final remarks concern the lay-out. The book contains quite a few
typographical errors and some tables lack legends, which makes the
interpretation difficult. However, the overall structure of the book is very
handy. The papers at the beginning give a general idea of the notion of
evidentiality and the other papers provide a more detailed, language-specific

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


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

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

Willet, Thomas L. 1988. A cross-linguistic survey of the grammaticalization of
evidentiality. 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.