Epistemic and Evidential Sentence Adverbials in Danish and English: A Comparative Study

Janus Mortensen

Research output: Book/ReportReportCommunication

Abstract

In this dissertation I investigate and compare how the notional categories of epistemic modality and evidentiality are structured by adverbial systems in Danish and English. The dissertation is founded on a hypothesis that speakers of Danish as well as English in their respective languages have access to a number of systematically organized sentence adverbials that allow them to specify which degree of force or which type of source supports the utterances they put forward. Sentence adverbials that specify degree of force may be called epistemic, while those that specify source may be called evidential.

In Chapter 1, I present the two research questions the dissertation sets out to answer, viz. how are the notional categories of epistemic modality and evidentiality structured by adverbial systems in Danish and English? And: what are the differences and similarities between the systems of epistemic and evidential sentence adverbials in Danish and English? I argue that in comparison to the modal verbs in Danish and English, the group of epistemic and evidential adverbials has so far remained fairly unexplored as a grammatical category.

In chapter 2, I present the theoretical framework of the dissertation, which is primarily constituted by Danish Functional Linguistics. To accommodate the dissertation's particular focus on sentence adverbials and the comparative aspect of the study, this framework is complemented by elements of Scandinavian polyphony theory as well as theory of contrastive linguistics.

In chapter 3, I outline the tertium comparationis of the analysis. Content-wise, the comparison revolves around the two notional categories of ‘epistemic modality' and ‘evidentiality' while the grammatical category of ‘sentence adverbial' constitutes the expression based tertium. With inspiration in Kronning's (2004) characterization of epistemic modality and evidentiality as kunskapens styrka and kunskapens källa I argue that specification of ‘force' and specification of ‘source' can be seen as the primary functions of epistemic modality and evidentiality. In order to make these notions operational I draw on the definitions of epistemic and evidential meaning presented in Boye (2005).

In Chapter 4, I present the method I have employed in the analysis of the epistemic and evidential adverbials. The method may be characterised as an integration of traditional methods of structural linguistics with methods inspired by corpus linguistics. For the purpose of the dissertation I have compiled a reference sample which consists of ten randomly selected contextualized examples of the adverbials under investigation drawn from www.politiken.dk and www.guardian.co.uk. The reference sample has been used as a hypothesis generating medium and a test frame, in a process which is most adequately described as abduction, in the sense of Peirce (1965 [1903]).

Chapters 5 and 6 make up the bulk of the report. In these two chapters I investigate how the notional categories of epistemic modality and evidentiality are structured by adverbial systems in Danish and English. I show that the differences and similarities between the individual members of the epistemic and evidential systems in both languages can generally be explained by recourse to a limited number of distinctive features, of which force and source are the primary ones, while ‘modal factor' and ‘responsibility' are secondary ones. Epistemic adverbials are essentially concerned with the specification of force and secondarily with modal factor position, i.e. the specification of the origin of the source. Evidential adverbials are essentially concerned with the specification of source, and secondarily with the specification of responsibility, which concerns the relation between the speaker and the propositional content of the utterance.

The investigation of the Danish adverbials (Chapter 5) includes the following adverbials (in alphabetical order): angivelig, antagelig, formentlig, formodentlig, givetvis, ikke nødvendigvis, muligvis, måske, nok, nødvendigvis, sandsynligvis, tilsyneladende, tydeligvis, utvivlsomt, vel, vist, øjensynlig and åbenbart. I show that it is possible to split this group into two distinct systems, System I and System II, on the basis of morphologic, syntactic and, especially, topological criteria. System I consists of nok, vel and vist, while the remaining adverbials belong to System II. I determine the members of System I to be epistemic-evidential adverbials because they concomitantly code force and source. The members of System II, on the other hand, are clearly divided into epistemic and evidential adverbials. The epistemic ones are: antagelig, formentlig, formodentlig, givetvis, ikke nødvendigvis, muligvis, måske, nødvendigvis, sandsynligvis and utvivlsomt, while the group of evidential adverbials consists of: angivelig, tilsyneladende, tydeligvis, øjensynlig and åbenbart. In the analysis I show that the difference between the adverbials can generally be explained by recourse to the mentioned four distinctive features.

The investigation of the English adverbials (Chapter 6) includes the following adverbials (in alphabetical order): allegedly, apparently, certainly, clearly, definitely, evidently, inevitably, maybe, necessarily, not necessarily, obviously, perhaps, possibly, presumably, probably, reportedly, seemingly, surely and undoubtedly. On the basis of semantic criteria I divide these adverbials into two overall groups of epistemic and evidential adverbials. The epistemic adverbials are further divided into two subgroups: Group 1, which consists of adverbials that are concerned with the continuum ranging from possibility to necessity, viz. inevitably, maybe, necessarily, not necessarily, perhaps, possibly, presumably and probably, and Group 2, which consists of adverbials that constitute claims to certainty, viz. certainly, definitely, surely and undoubtedly. Similarly, the evidential adverbials are divided into two groups: Group 1, which consists of members that are concerned with perception (often in an abstract sense), viz. apparently, clearly, evidently, obviously and seemingly, and Group 2, which consists of adverbials that are concerned with report, viz. reportedly and allegedly. In the analysis I show that the difference between the members can generally be explained by recourse to the mentioned four distinctive features.

In chapter 7, I compare the way the Danish and English systems are organized. The most significant overall difference I point out is that while Danish has two distinct adverbial systems that code epistemic modality and evidentiality, English, generally speaking, has only one. The Danish System I clearly stands out, both in terms of expression and content, and I argue that it is more grammaticalized than the other systems. The Danish System II, on the other hand generally resembles the English system. In both cases there is a clear semantically motivated difference between epistemic and evidential adverbials. As far as the epistemic systems are concerned I show that they are in fact organised quite similarly in the two languages, although Group 2 of the English adverbials stands out. As far as the evidential adverbials are concerned I show that they are organized quite differently in the two languages. The Danish evidential adverbials are mono-source adverbials, i.e. they invariably specify one type of source, subjective, intersubjective or objective, while the English adverbials are typically unspecified between two source types at the structural level.

Finally, in chapter 8, I end the dissertation by concluding that the presented analysis provides a coherent functional-structural description of the systems of epistemic and evidential adverbials in Danish and English and present some perspectives for further research.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages140
Publication statusPublished - 2006
Externally publishedYes

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