LingLang Lunch (10/29/2013): Scott AnderBois (Brown University)

On the exceptional status of reportative evidentials

Evidentials are morphemes found regularly in ~25% of the world’s languages which encode the speaker’s grounds for making a particular claim, p, i.e. what sort of evidence they have that has led them to assert p. Some common types of evidential meanings include: direct visual, direct non-visual, conjectural, reportative, deduction from direct evidence of a result state, and deduction from general world knowledge. Given the common characterization of evidentials as providing the grounds for an assertion (of some sort) that p, we expect that it should be infelicitous or contradictory for a speaker who has uttered an evidential assertion, EVID(p), to deny that p is the case.

While this expectation is consistently borne out for most evidentials, we show that reportative evidentials – i.e. those which indicate that the speaker’s source is what some second or third party has told them – consistently do allow for exactly this. Whereas previous authors have proposed semantic accounts for such data, we argue that these exceptional cases are due to pragmatic perspective-shift. Such shifts are only readily possible in the case of reportatives since they introduce another perspectival agent, whereas other evidentials (even including intuitively ‘weaker’ ones like conjecturals) do not. Beyond explaining the cross-linguistic behavior of reportatives, I argue the proposal also makes correct predictions for languages like Bulgarian where a single evidential form has both reportative and inferential uses.