Below I describe selected output grouped by topic.

dissertation: heterogeneity and uniformity in the evidential domain


The dissertation is devoted to the formal mechanisms that govern the use of evidentials, expressions of natural language that denote the source of information for the proposition conveyed by a sentence. Specifically, I am concerned with putative cases of semantic variation in evidentiality and with its previously unnoticed semantic uniformity.

An ongoing debate in this area concerns the relation between evidentiality and epistemic modality. According to one line of research, all evidentials are garden variety epistemic modals. According to another, evidentials across languages fall into two semantic classes: (i) modal evidentials; and (ii) illocutionary evidentials, which deal with the structure of speech acts. The dissertation provides a long-overdue discussion of analytical options proposed for evidentials, and shows that the debate is lacking formally-explicit tools that would differentiate between the two classes. Current theories, even though motivated by superficially different data, make in fact very similar predictions. I reduce the cases of apparent semantic variation to factors independent from evidentiality, such as the syntax of clausal complementation, and show that these cases do not resolve the modal-illocutionary debate. I further propose novel empirical diagnostics that would identify modal-hood and speech-act-hood.

I then turn to the many traits that evidentials within and across languages have in common. I argue that evidentials belong to the class of subjective expressions, along with first-person pain and attitude reports, and attribute to them a unified semantics of first-person mental states. The subjectivity of evidentials is contributed by two components: (i) the first-person component that is part of the conventional meaning of evidentials, analyzed as indexicality; and (ii) the mental state component that is rooted in the properties of cognitive processes described by evidentials (and other subjective expressions), such as perception and introspection.

I show that the subjectivity of evidentials restricts their behavior across a range of environ- ments in a uniform way. In dialogues, subjectivity accounts for the resistance to direct denials, a property known as non-challengeability and previously seen as supporting the not-at-issue analysis of evidentiality. In attitude reports, subjectivity disallows ascribing evidence to a third party and bans evidentials from amnesiac scenarios, used in the literature on attitudes as a litmus test for ‘de se’. In information-seeking questions, subjectivity creates an effect of oblig- atory shift to the addressee because it is incompatible with speaker-oriented interpretations wherein the speaker does not have access to their own epistemic state. I further show that evidentials may be speaker-oriented in non-canonical questions. That evidentials shift has been previously hardwired to their syntax and/or semantics, which fails to explain the lack of shift in non-canonical questions.

If language is in some ways a window on the mind, evidentiality is a natural meeting point for several areas, including at least linguistics, philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, and epistemology. But so far, expressions of evidentiality have been studied in-depth almost exclu- sively within formal semantics. Current linguistic theories of evidentiality are disconnected from theories of knowledge and models of reasoning. By deriving the linguistic behavior of evidentials from non-linguistic properties of experiences they describe, this dissertation makes a necessary first step towards filling this gap.

related work on evidentiality

2016. "On the semantic uniformity of evidentials" (poster). New Ideas in Semantics and Modeling, Paris. [poster]

2016. "Disagreement with evidentials: A call for subjectivity". Julie Hunter, Mandy Simons and Matthew Stone (eds.), JerSem: The 20th Workshop on the Semantics and Pragmatics of Dialogue (peer-reviewed), 65-75. [paper]

Across languages, grammatical evidentials (linguistic expressions of information source) exhibit the property of non-challengeability: they resist direct denial in dialogues. The literature attributes this property to the not- at-issue status of the information contributed by evidentials. I argue against this view and show that with respect to disagreement, evidentials pattern with subjective expressions such as first-person belief and pain reports. Like other subjective expressions and unlike e.g. appositives, evidentials ban all kinds of disagreement about content and not just explicit denial. This novel observation has no account in the literature. It falls out naturally once a theory of evidentiality incorporates subjectivity. It is thus unnecessary to appeal to a special discourse status of evidentials to explain their behavior in conversations.

December 2015. "Evidentials and questions". Talk at the invited workshop Differentiating contents, Center for Formal Epistemology, Carnegie Mellon University. [abstract] [slides]

May 2015. "Evidentials and attitudes" (poster). Semantics and Linguistic Theory 25, Stanford University. [poster]

2015. "Evidentials in attitudes: do's and dont's". E. Csipak and H. Zeijlstra (eds.), Proceedings of Sinn und Bedeutung (SuB) 19. [paper] [bibtex]

This paper is devoted to evidentials in attitudinal complements. I start with two empirical observations. A. Some logically possible interpretations are systematically not attested for evidentials-in-attitudes. This new observation has no straightforward account in the current literature. B. Languages vary with respect to whether or not evidentials-in-attitudes shift, i.e. whether they are speaker-oriented (as in root declaratives) or not. The variation has been previously attributed to the semantic non-uniformity of evidentials. I argue against this view. To account for A, I propose that evidentials are self-ascriptions, which is additionally motivated by their behavior in matrix clauses. To account for B, I propose that evidential shift is an instance of indexical shift driven by a monster operator a la (Anand and Nevins 2004), which explains previously unnoticed similarities in restrictions on both kinds of shift. Understanding what happens in attitude reports has often been key to the semantics of many phenomena, e.g. pronouns and modals. Offering the first systematic examination of evidentials-in-attitudes across languages, the paper makes a case for evidentials and broadens our understanding of perspective-sensitivity in general.

September 2014. "Varieties of evidential shift". Presented at Sinn und Bedeutung (SuB) 19, Georg August Universität Göttingen, Germany, September 15-17, 2014. [slides]

December 2013. "Embedding evidentials across languages". Invited talk at DIP Colloquium, ILLC, University of Amsterdam. [abstract] [handout]


wh-scope marking and wh-parentheticals in slavic

Slavic languages have constructions consisting of two interrogative clauses, a clause with the fronted wh-adverbial ('what' or 'how') and a wh-clause with a fronted wh-phrase. Glossing such a structure word by word, we can obtain the following English sentence:

What do you think, when will all the ice melt?

Due to superficial similarities, such constructions were analysed as instances of Wh-Scope Marking. However, not all of these constructions in Slavic line up with canonical scope marking as found in German, Hindi or Hungarian. For Russian, I have argued that the clause with the wh-adverbial is a parenthetical that grammaticises one narrow class of questions frequently met in discourse. Across Slavic languages, these constructions differ in a range of parameters: choice of the wh-adverbial ('what' vs. 'how') and its functions elsewhere in a language, restrictions on mutual order of the clauses, possibilities of further embedding, prosodic characteristics, etc. Now I am conducting a detailed language-by-language comparison to establish reasons of such variation. In particular, I am looking at the history of these constructions across Slavic and explore whether borrowing from German might have taken place in some languages (e.g. Czech).

2013. "How do you think? Apparent wh-scope marking in Russian". Presented at the workshop "Parenthesis and ellipsis: Cross-linguistic and theoretical perspectives" during the 35th meeting of DGfS, University of Potsdam, March 12-15, 2013. [slides]

This paper explores properties of the Russian kak-construction consisting of two interrogative clauses, a kak-clause with the fronted wh-adverbial kak 'how' and a wh-clause with a fronted wh-phrase. This construction was analysed as an instance of Wh-Scope Marking. However, it shows a range of puzzling and unexpected properties. I propose an approach wherein the kak-clause is a parenthetical and neither of the clauses is syntactically subordinate. Kak-parentheticals outside of interrogatives are not limited in a way the kak-clause is. I suggest that the Russian kak-clause grammaticises one narrow class of questions frequently met in discourse.

2012. On alleged wh-scope marking in Russian. Proceedings of WCCFL 30, pp.205-215. [paper] [bibtex]

The paper explores a Russian two-clausal construction that was previously argued to instantiate wh-scope marking. I examine a range of syntatic and semantic properties of this construction and show that it is far from canonical scope marking, though might look similar. I refute the scope marking analysis as it fails to predict and explain certain restrictions and propose an alternative approach, wherein the construction in question is a parenthetical that triggers a Potssian conventional implicature. This proposal helps to grasp restrictions intrinsic to Russian and broadens the typology of scope marking and similar looking phenomena.

evidential perfects

Evidentiality often clusters in certain regions, and where it does, it has a dominant morphosyntactic form, e.g. most evidentials of Western Europe are modal auxiliaries. Another frequent make-up is (present) perfect morphology, referred to as "Perfect of evidentiality". It happens to encode some sort of evidentiality all over the globe: Dogon, Newari, Scandinavian languages, Spanish of La Paz, Northern Ostyak, Komi Zyryan. The highest concentration of the perfect-evidential overlap is found in the Balkan-Caucasus region, sometimes referred to as the Old World evidential belt, including but not limited to Balkan Sprachbund. Most famously described for Turkish as well as other Turkic languages, it in fact pervades the area and is a feature of the following languages: Balkan Romance: Aromanian, Daco Romanian, Megleno Romanian; Iranian: Farsi, Ishkashim, Tajik; Kartvelian: Georgian; Indo-Aryan: Romani; South Slavic: Bulgarian, Macedonian; Daghestanian: Agul, Archi, Bagvalal, Dargwa, Hunzib; Indo-European isolates: Eastern Armenian and Albanian.

Such perfects express interesting commonalities: (1) they express indirect evidentiality and are often analysed as two accidentaly homophonous markers, conjectural and reportative and (2) they encode non-trivial temporal relations between the speech situation and the situation of evidence acquisition.

I've done fieldwork on Georgian, which shows interesting (dis)similiarities with Turkish and Bulgarian both in the evidential domain and interaction of evidentiality with tense and aspect. I'm not actively working on the topic but am still interested in the nature, historic development and georgraphic distribution of the perfect-evidential overlap and in how to derive the meaning of indirect evidentiality without postulating accidental homophony.

December 2012. ``Evidentiality in the Georgian tense and aspect system''. UCLA. [slides]

June 2012. "How perfect is the perfect of evidentiality: Evidence from Georgian". Presented at The Nature of Evidentiality, Leiden University, Netherlands, 14-16 June 2012. [abstract] [slides]

The paper discusses current approaches to why perfect and evidentiality go together and presents new data from Georgian. This data challenge existing theories and shed some light on the nature of perfect of evidentiality.


Adyghe is a Northwest Caucasian language, spoken mostly in the Caucasus. I'm proud to have participated in a series of fieldwork trips to the national republic Adyghea organised and funded by the Russian State University for the Humanities in 2004-2010. Such trips, or expeditions, are a hallmark of Russian typological tradition, largely thanks to the efforts of late A.E. Kibrik. Instead of bringing a consultant to the classroom, which is the common practice for the Field Methods in the U.S., a group of people goes into the field to work on a language. In such a setting, one gets acquainted not only with the language itself, but also with the culture of its speakers, which is an essential part of being a fieldworker. Theoretical research is combined with the language documentation component, including, as the ultimate goal, writing a reference grammar with a significant amount of elicited texts. It's in these expeditions where I got the training I have now, learned how to handle raw data and how to analyse them. Without that, it would be impossible for me to have the cross-linguistic component in my dissertation.

Adyghe is a polysynthetic language with complex and fascinating morphological patterns. Over the years, I have mainly worked on the tense and aspect system, and constraints on affix ordering. I have been investigating semantics of various tense and aspect suffixes, whose inventory in Adyghe goes beyond the familiar and includes things like 'pretend that p'. In particular, I was working on the so-called double past, which led me to the exploration of semantic typology of pluperfects, their non-temporal values and possible application of inertia worlds apparatus in this domain.

In my own work and in joint work with Yury Lander, I showed that Adyghe affix ordering is compositional in the suffix domain while templatic in the prefix domain.

Currently I am not working on Adyghe though I am still part of the Northwest Caucasian language documentation project, hosted by the Russian State University for the Humanities. In 2009, I contributed to the collection of papers (in Russian) that serves as a basis for a theoretically-informed reference grammar of Adyghe, which members of the project are now writing.

2010. (with Yury Lander). Affix ordering in polysynthesis: Evidence from Adyghe. Morphology 20(2), pp. 299-319. [paper]

This article deals with the order of verbal suffixes in Adyghe, a polysynthetic language of the Caucasus. Traditionally the structure of the Adyghe wordform and the order of its affixes were described in terms of template morphology. However, we present new data demanding another, substantially different approach. We demonstrate that for the most part suffix ordering within the Adyghe verb follows strictly compositional rules. This feature is a manifestation of the polysynthetic nature of the language.