Evidentiality and Epistemic Modality

Conceptual and Descriptive Issues

by Marta Carretero (Volume editor) Juana I. Marin-Arrese (Volume editor) Elena Dominguez Romero (Volume editor) Victoria Martín de la Rosa (Volume editor)
©2023 Edited Collection 414 Pages
Series: Linguistic Insights, Volume 297


Evidentiality and Epistemic Modality: Conceptual and Descriptive Issues presents ground-breaking research on the domains of evidentiality and epistemic modality. The book includes papers on key theoretical issues (the nature of evidential inference and the challengeability criterion for evidentiality), and descriptive studies covering various European languages (English, Spanish, French, German, Dutch, Italian, Romanian, Catalan and Latvian), based on general corpora or specific discourse types. The prominent corpus-based contrastive methodology uncovers a wide range of idiosyncratic discourse-pragmatic features of diverse languages, discourses and genres. The contributions are representative of the work on evidentiality and epistemic modality in a substantial number of countries.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction
  • Acknowledgments
  • Section A Evidentiality: Conceptual Issues
  • On Inferential Evidentiality: Is “Evidential” Inference Abductive?
  • Further Motivating the Challengeability Criterion for Evidentiality
  • Section B Evidentiality and Modality: Descriptive Issues and Corpus-based Studies
  • Evidential Strategies and Hierarchies in Ladakhi: the Case of Sensory Perceptions
  • Inferential must from a Contrastive Dutch-German Perspective: Semantics and Constructional Aspects
  • Conjectural Future in French and in Spanish: An L2 Acquisition Perspective
  • Romance Future: between Epistemic Modality and Evidentiality
  • Speaker Commitment in Reportative and Folklore Evidentiality: The Case of Spanish ‘o eso dicen’
  • Toward an (Exclusively) Inferential Marker: The Modal deure (‘mustʼ) in Contemporary Catalan
  • Evidentiality and the Latvian Oblique Forms
  • Section C Evidentiality and Modality in Discourses and Genres
  • Evidential Expressions in Spanish Accounts of Religious Miracles of the 17th Century
  • The Use of the English Modal Verbs in Linguistic and Philosophical Research Articles
  • Notes on Contributors

←6 | 7→


This volume brings together cutting-edge research on evidentiality and epistemic modality, covering conceptual issues as well as descriptive studies on a number of languages, discourses and genres. The contributions are mostly revised and enlarged versions of papers presented at the International Conference on Evidentiality and Modality 2018 (ICEM’18), held at Universidad Complutense of Madrid on 16–19 September 2018. This conference provided an exceptional opportunity for academics from many countries to share their research and exchange their views; the resulting insights and approaches are partly reflected in the present book.

The volume is divided into three sections, which correspond to three main themes. Section A contains two papers focused on theoretical issues on evidentiality, namely the nature of evidential inference and the criterion of challengeability for setting apart epistemic modality and evidentiality. Section B covers descriptive work, mostly based on corpora, on a number of languages: English, Spanish, French, German, Dutch, Italian, Romanian, Catalan, Latvian and Ladakhi (a Tibetic language); some of these papers set forth contrastive analyses of two or more of the languages listed above. Section C contains two papers focused on specific discourse domains and genres, namely accounts of religious miracles and linguistic and philosophical research articles.

Section A starts with Chapter 1, by Patrick Dendale and Johanna Miecznikowski, which explores the nature of the inferential process involved in inferential evidentiality. This topic has been extensively treated in the French tradition through the work by Jean-Pierre Desclés and Zlatka Guentchéva, who have claimed that evidential inference is fundamentally abductive in nature. Drawing on more than 40 publications by these authors, this paper presents and assesses their abduction claims called “narrow claim” and “broad claim”, and proposes that the “narrow claim” is the useful one for the analysis of ←7 | 8→inferential evidentiality. The paper describes Desclès and Guentchéva’s abductive inference schema, which comprises three elements: an observation, a general law and a hypothesis concluded from these premises. Finally, Dendale and Miecznikowski point out a series of issues and unanswered questions raised by Desclès and Guentchéva’s analysis and characterization of abduction.

Chapter 2, by Tabea Reiner, questions the status of challengeability as a criterion to set apart epistemic modality from evidentiality, in the sense that epistemic meanings can be challenged while evidential meanings cannot, and then denies this status on the grounds that, in contrast to temporal, modal and aspectual meanings, evidential meanings do not operate on claims, although they may constitute claims on their own. Reiner also sketches a framework for evidentiality which distinguishes two levels, one not drawing on claims and the other consisting of claims. These levels are related to the grammatical or lexical status of their markers.

Section B, covering descriptive work on a number of languages, starts with Chapter 3, authored by Nicolas Tournadre, which concentrates on the marking of sensory perceptions and evidential strategies and hierarchies in Ladakhi (a.k.a. Ladaks), a language that displays a rich evidential-epistemic system in accordance with its membership in the Tibetic language family. The paper shows that the sensory markers, DUG and RAG, which play an essential role in Central Ladaks, cannot be simply described as “visual” and “non-visual”. Instead, various factors, such as the hierarchy of evidential functions, temporal scope and shareable sensory experience, play an important role in the choice of evidential markers.

Through the analysis of a parallel corpus of detective novels, Chapter 4, by Tanja Mortelmans, sets forth a detailed account of the reasons why English epistemic-inferential must is much more common than its counterparts moeten (Dutch) and müssen (German) with this meaning. English must is found to have a wider epistemic range in a number of respects: it is compatible with weaker epistemic judgments; it does not only code inferences on the basis of external evidence or world knowledge but also expresses speaker-oriented conjectures that lack a clear evidential basis; it is used to express empathy with the addressee, while Dutch and German seem to prefer other options for ←8 | 9→this purpose. This different behavior of must can be related to its stronger grammaticalization compared to its Dutch and German cognates, which are still prominently geared toward expressing (less grammaticalized) deontic and dynamic modality. The paper also proves translators to highly capture the subtle linguistic differences under study.

Chapters 5–8 cover issues on evidentiality and/or epistemic modality in Romance languages. Chapter 5, by Aoife Ahern, José Amenós-Pons and Pedro Guijarro-Fuentes, examines the interpretation of the conjectural and concessive future in Spanish by non-native L1 French speakers at upper-intermediate and advanced levels. An empirical study was carried out, based on acceptability judgments of clauses containing verbs with different lexical aspects and comparing the responses of the French speakers with those of a control group of native speakers of European Spanish. The results show that the French speakers fully transferred the L1 features; this transfer had a hindering effect regarding the conjectural and concessive uses of the simple future but led to a facilitative effect in the use of the compound future. The results do not differ significantly across the two proficiency levels, which suggests that the feature reassembly required for full command of the simple future in Spanish poses difficulties for L1 French speakers. The research provides no definite answer as to whether these speakers will eventually acquire the uses of the Spanish future that do not correspond to the French future; however, they showed sensitivity to the [± telic] feature, which suggests some positive evolution and opens the possibility for subsequent progress.

The future tense in Romance languages is also approached in Chapter 6 by Cecilia-Mihaela Popescu and Oana-Adriana Duţă, which focuses on the so-called “epistemic future” in adversative and concessive contexts in Italian, Spanish and Romanian. The chapter proves that a complex rhetorical strategy is involved in such contexts, where the epistemic future actualizes the prototypical feature of placement in a subsequent relation, exclusively marking the relation of subsequence of the hypothesis compared to a previously mentioned state of facts. In its first part, the paper sets forth a comparative analysis of the semantic and functional behavior of adversative and concessive uses of the epistemic future; this analysis mainly emphasizes that a description of inferential cognitive processes is actualized in both the adversative ←9 | 10→and the concessive contexts. The second part shows that the epistemic future in these contexts does not have an evidential reportative value per se; instead, this value is a meaning by default, which has to be actualized through the semantic and syntactic framework in which the verb morphemes occur.

Chapter 7, by Dorota Kotwica, analyzes the evidential meaning of the Spanish construction o eso dicen (‘or so [they] say’) from the perspective of speaker commitment and involvement. This construction can be used either to indicate that the evidence originates from a roughly defined group of people (reportative) or to introduce pieces of common knowledge, such as popular sayings and proverbs (folklore). The study contains a theoretical discussion of these two subtypes of evidential meaning, which shows differences in the degree of speaker commitment. In reportative contexts, additional elements of evaluation often stress a speaker’s dissociation from the source. However, in folklore contexts, speakers rarely show doubt regarding the information or its source, since folklore evidence is based on universally shared knowledge within the community to which the speaker belongs; this means that, even if speakers have no sensorial mode of knowing, part of the speakers’ perspectives are reflected in their utterances. The chapter also offers an empirical study of the use of o eso dicen with reportative and folklore evidentiality, based on a sample from El Corpus del Español by Mark Davies.

Chapter 8, by Andreu Sentí, sets forth a study of the modal construction with the verb deure (‘must’) at the beginning of the Contemporary Catalan period (from 1833 onwards), based on a number of written and spoken corpora. The results show that, in the 19th century, the auxiliary deure consolidates the inferential evidential value, which had already emerged in Old Catalan, while its original deontic modality value decreases. During the 20th century, deure loses its deontic value in most Catalan dialects, thus differing from its correlates in the other Romance languages. The chapter also discusses new subjective values of deure (generic inference and conjecture), as well as two pragmatic intersubjective uses, namely a value of courtesy and another of inference about a future state of affairs. The paper also points out that, while in previous works on Old Catalan the inferential reading of deure had been considered evidential and not epistemic, the subjective and ←10 | 11→intersubjective uses found in data from the 19th to 20th centuries challenge the relation between evidentiality and epistemic modality.

Section B ends with Chapter 9, by Andra Kalnača and Ilze Lokmane, which examines the evidential meanings of the oblique forms in Latvian and their interaction with other meanings. The study, based on a corpus and other authentic data, shows that the main meaning of the Latvian oblique forms is reportative (either quotative or hearsay), thus being evidential. This evidential meaning remains in all oblique uses, regardless of whether the discourse does or does not mention the source of reported information. By contrast, epistemic and mirative meanings are superimposed overtones, largely dependent on pragmatic factors, and most manifest in the presence of additional modality indicators such as modal particles or special syntactic constructions. The oblique may also express evidentiality combined with deontic modality, in the cases of reported imperative and reported necessity. Such a combination takes place mainly in complex sentences with verba dicendi in the main clause, the deontic meaning referring to the reported proposition.

Section C, which comprises two papers on specific genres, starts with Chapter 10, by Natalia Mora-López, which analyzes evidential expressions in three 17th-century accounts of religious miracles. The texts display a wealth of devices of reported evidence as well as verbs of seeing and hearing to support their narratives: people say something (typically quoted), people see something (e.g. miracles and signs), and people hear something (e.g. saints’ voices). This wealth of evidential expressions is not surprising, given the key role of veracity in this text type: even if accounts of religious miracles were commonly reported and widely accepted in the Spain of the 16th and 17th centuries, the narrated events were still perceived to look unbelievable, unnatural or even supernatural, hence the need for support by evidence in order to convince readers of the truthfulness of the accounts.

Finally, Chapter 11, by Liisa Vilkki, sets forth a comparative analysis of the use of English epistemic modals (could, may, and might) and inferential modals (must and should) in research articles extracted from five linguistic and five philosophical internet journals. The chapter mainly draws on the metadiscourse framework and has also considered other studies on academic discourse and politeness. The results ←11 | 12→show that these modals often have similar, multifunctional uses in both types of articles. However, important differences were also found: most remarkably, philosophical articles include a higher amount of various predominantly reader-oriented usages of these modal verbs. This difference may be explained by the nature of philosophical research, which mainly involves re-assessing prior positions and presumptions. This difference seems to suggest that philosophers should take special care to control the level of the personal dimension in order to build convincing arguments.

In summary, the chapters in this book are instances of ground-breaking research in evidentiality and epistemic modality, based on authentic linguistic data and including discourse, semantic or pragmatic perspectives. The two chapters in Section A provide thought-provoking views on two burning issues in present-day research on evidentiality, namely the nature of the inferential process involved in inferential evidentiality and the role of challengeability as a criterion for setting apart epistemic modality from evidentiality. The descriptive studies in Section B are in-depth studies of the way in which a number of linguistic devices express evidentiality and modality in specific languages. The two papers in Section C show how evidentiality and/or modality are used by writers of different genres as devices for orienting communication toward the fulfillment of their aims.

←7 | 8→


As volume editors, we would like to acknowledge support from a number of research agencies who helped fund the participation of different researchers in the ICEM’18 Conference and the financial support provided by the following research project to enable the publication of this volume:

Patrick Dendale and Johanna Miecznikowski

On Inferential Evidentiality: Is “Evidential” Inference Abductive?

←15 | 16→←16 | 17→

Evidential markers of the type “Inferring” (Willett 1988) present the information in a sentence as the conclusion of an inference carried out by the speaker. The nature of this inferential process has hardly attracted the attention of scholars working in the field of evidentiality, especially in the Anglo-Saxon literature. Instead, the focus was laid on the nature of the evidence an inference is based on, proposing distinctions such as sensory or perceptual evidence vs. non-sensory or non-perceptual, conceptual evidence, which, for example, underlie the distinction Inferred vs. Assumed made by Aikhenvald (2004). In the French tradition, however, the nature of the inferential process was explicitly described by two scholars, Jean-Pierre Desclés and Zlatka Guentchéva, who have claimed since the mid 1980s that evidential inference is fundamentally abductive in nature (as opposed to deductive, for instance). Drawing on more than 40 publications by these authors, we here present their claim in detail and briefly assess it. In future work, we plan to review the way inferential evidentials have been characterized in the wider field of evidential typology and to suggest a new, more general, way of characterizing evidential inference, which will integrate both considerations about the inferential process and the common distinctions regarding the types of evidence the inference is based on.

Keywords:Inferential evidentialityevidential inferenceevidenceabductionJean-Pierre DesclésZlatka Guentchévaplausibility
←17 | 18→

1. Introduction

The notion of abduction, developed more than a century ago by the logician, semiotician and philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce (1839–1914), is essential in epistemology and in the formation of new knowledge. However, this notion has not received, we think, enough attention from philosophers of science. (Desclés 2000: 87)

In classifications of markers of evidentiality, inference markers are one of three commonly acknowledged subcategories, beside direct perception markers and reportive/hearsay markers. They provide evidence of the type “Inferring”, according to Willett’s (1988) classification, and belong to the category named “Inference” by Plungian (2001) and “Inferred” by Aikhenvald (2004). Inferential evidentiality is no doubt the category with the highest number and richest variety of lexical and grammatical expressions. A provisional list of evidential markers (grammatical and lexical) that we made for French in preparation of Dendale (2022) includes at least 33 (acknowledged or suspected) markers of inferential evidentiality, against only 20 markers of reportive evidentiality and less than a handful of markers of direct perception (most of which are inferential markers as well).

Despite the size and importance of the category of inferential evidentials and the growing number of empirical studies on that type of markers, surprisingly little has been written in the literature on evidentiality about the nature of the inferential operation underlying inferential evidentials. As Jean-Pierre Desclés and Zlatka Guentchéva note,

[m]‌any authors, in particular in studies of evidentiality, call upon the notion of inference, without, however, specifying the type of inference used. And yet all inference processes are far from being identical. (Desclés & Guentchéva 2018: 1, our emphasis)

“[T]‌here exist several types of inferences”, states Cornillie (2009: 49). Indeed, what we call ‘evidential inference’ is not just any inference. Its properties and purpose are quite different from the properties and purpose of, for instance, the inference used to compute implicit meanings of utterances, such as conversational implicatures in Gricean and ←18 | 19→relevance theoretical pragmatics, or to compute coherence relations between utterances when interpreting texts (Kintsch & Van Dijk 1978, Crothers 1978). Evidential inference may be argued to bear some similarity with argumentative inference, i.e. the inference warranting a link between a standpoint and an argument that is spelled out textually (for a theoretical discussion, see Miecznikowski 2020), but the relations between evidential, argumentative and pragmatic inference are still poorly understood.1 Evidential inference is a notion that needs to be characterized explicitly. How can this be achieved? As far as we can see, two main strategies have been followed by linguists studying evidentiality.

The first, and evidently the most common one, is a strategy that focuses on the nature of the evidence on which the inferential operation is based (i.e. on the nature of contextually salient premises), in order to indirectly characterize that operation as a whole. Authors distinguish between perceptual evidence and non-perceptual (viz. conceptual) evidence (e.g. Diewald & Smirnova 2010: 63, Ruskan 2012, Marín-Arrese 2013), between perception-based, conception-based and communication-based (or report-based) inferential readings (Marín-Arrese 2017) or between observation-motivated knowledge and reasoning-motivated knowledge (Plungian 2001: 352). This distinction has given rise to well-known binary oppositions between inferential categories such as “Inferred” vs. “Assumed” (Aikhenvald 2004), “Inferentials” vs. “Presumptives” (Plungian 2001: 353), “(Inference from) Results” vs. “(Inference from) Reasoning” (Willett 1988: 57, 63) or “circumstantial (or specific) inference” vs. “generic inference” (Squartini 2008: 923–925).2 As we plan to show in subsequent work, this type of dichotomic characterization raises different theoretical problems. What is equally important for the present purpose is that it ←19 | 20→fails to provide a general account of what evidential inference precisely is, compared to other types of inference such as argumentation or the computation of implicit meaning. Rooted as it is in typological research about evidentiality as a grammatical category, this approach tends, in fact, to take the specificity of evidential inference for granted on linguistic grounds. Within this approach, what specifically characterizes evidential inference (including all subtypes) is the fact that it is encoded by grammatical evidential markers in a relevant number of languages. Even if a growing number of studies about lexical evidentials has given a new twist to the debate, many linguists still view evidential inference as mainly defined by its opposition to other evidential categories (especially report and perception) within more or less closed paradigms of markers. That may explain the lack, in much linguistic research, of conceptual defining criteria for evidential inference that are independent of its linguistic marking.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2023 (May)
Evidentiality and Epistemic Modality discourse-pragmatic analysis study on European languages
Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2023. 414 pp., 8 fig. b/w, 29 tables.

Biographical notes

Marta Carretero (Volume editor) Juana I. Marin-Arrese (Volume editor) Elena Dominguez Romero (Volume editor) Victoria Martín de la Rosa (Volume editor)

Marta Carretero is Professor of English Linguistics in the Department of English Studies at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid. She has authored on modality, evidentiality and evaluative language, mainly in English and contrasting English and Spanish. Juana I. Marín-Arrese is Emeritus Professor of English Linguistics in the Department of English Studies at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid. Her recent research focuses on stance, epistemicity and the expression of inter/subjectivity in discourse. Elena Domínguez Romero is Associate Professor of English language and linguistics at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid. Her recent research interests comprise evidentiality and positioning in media discourse as well as applied linguistics and innovative teaching research. Mª Victoria Martín de la Rosa is Associate Professor of English language and linguistics at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid. Her main research interest centres on the use of modality in UN Resolutions as well as on metaphor in political and educational discourse.


Title: Evidentiality and Epistemic Modality
book preview page numper 1
book preview page numper 2
book preview page numper 3
book preview page numper 4
book preview page numper 5
book preview page numper 6
book preview page numper 7
book preview page numper 8
book preview page numper 9
book preview page numper 10
book preview page numper 11
book preview page numper 12
book preview page numper 13
book preview page numper 14
book preview page numper 15
book preview page numper 16
book preview page numper 17
book preview page numper 18
book preview page numper 19
book preview page numper 20
book preview page numper 21
book preview page numper 22
book preview page numper 23
book preview page numper 24
book preview page numper 25
book preview page numper 26
book preview page numper 27
book preview page numper 28
book preview page numper 29
book preview page numper 30
book preview page numper 31
book preview page numper 32
book preview page numper 33
book preview page numper 34
book preview page numper 35
book preview page numper 36
book preview page numper 37
book preview page numper 38
book preview page numper 39
book preview page numper 40
416 pages