The notional category of evidentiality

A class at WESSLLI, July 11-17, 2020



Class description

Norms of human communication require our utterances to be evidence-based. We don't just say things out of the blue — instead, they need to be justiļ¬ed in some way. The world's languages have many devices to signal one's knowledge and to justify a statement. The linguistic category of evidentiality, an overt expression of the source of information for an utterance, is one such device.

How is evidentiality related to the norms of assertion? What types of knowledge do evidentials express? Can the linguistic behavior of evidentials be explained from a cognitive standpoint? The class will address those questions through a focused examination of the linguistic behavior of evidentials — empirical landscape, theoretical advances, their connection to other categories dealing with epistemic commitments, thus consolidating the past two decades of research in this area within formal semantics and pragmatics. The goal of the class is twofold: a synthesis of often unrelated lines of research and a survey of unresolved issues. It will be guided by the following questions:

— How to best model evidential meaning?

— Is evidential signal always part of the semantics, or can it be due to pragmatics in some cases?

— Do different evidential expressions form a natural class semantically?

The title above is a reference to Angelika Kratzer's classic paper "The notional category of modality", and the class sets out to understand the place of evidentiality among other semantic categories and how natural language conceptualizes evidence more generally.


Class outline (subject to change)
  1. Introduction and foundational issues: evidentiality as a morphosyntactic category, evidentiality and epistemic modality, information source vs. certainty.
  2. Evidentiality and self-knowledge: evidentials and first-person mental states, de se, other expressions of self-knowledge.
  3. Evidential meaning and (not-)at-issueness: norms of assertion, evidentiality and speech acts, the discourse status of information contributed by evidentials and their conversational dynamics.
  4. Hearsay and non-commitment: reportative evidence, reliability, speech reports.
  5. Evidence across domains and wrap-up: firsthand experience requirements with predicates of personal taste (delicious) and subjective attitudes (find), the problem of direct evidence, theories of evidential meaning.