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Evidentiality and Perception Verbs in English and German


Richard Jason Whitt

Evidentiality, the linguistic encoding of a speaker’s or writer’s evidence for an asserted proposition, has begun to receive serious attention from linguists only in the last quarter century. Much of this attention has focused on languages that encode evidentiality in the grammar, while much less interest has been shown in languages that express evidentiality through means other than inflectional morphology. In English and German, for instance, the verbs of perception – those verbs denoting sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste – are prime carriers of evidential meaning. This study surveys the most prominent of the perception verbs in English and German across all five sensory modalities and accounts for the range of evidential meanings by examining the general polysemy found among perception verbs, as well as the specific complementation patterns in which these verbs occur.


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Chapter 2 - Visual Perception 53


Chapter 2 Visual Perception As was already discussed in Chapter 1, visual perception enjoys prominence among the other sensory modalities, so it should come as no surprise that verbs of visual perception are the primary carriers of evidential meaning among perception verbs as well (Whitt forthcoming). In this chapter, I will examine the various ways the verbs of visual perception in English and German express evidential meaning. First, the subject-oriented verbs see and sehen will be discussed in light of data found in the various corpora. Then I will turn to the object-oriented look and aussehen, also reporting on the corpus-based findings. Finally, I will attempt to note any overarch- ing, general tendencies that can be found, as well as any recent historical developments which have occurred. 2.1 see 2.1.1 Quantitative Results The verb see is the most prolific of the English perception verbs examined, both in terms of overall occurrence and variety of evidential meanings expressed. In the Early Modern English section of the Helsinki Corpus, see occurs a total of 1,168 times. Of these attestations, ninety (7.7%) were found to express evidential meaning, i.e. contain a deictic meaning pointing to the SP/W’s evidence for the proposition. See is the most often attested perception verb in the ARCHER Corpus as well, occurring a total of 3,119 times. In all, 280 (9%) of these instances are carriers of evidential meaning, 54 Chapter 2 just a bit higher than the percentage in the Helsinki Corpus. The exact breakdown of...

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