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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 3 - Auditory Perception 135


Chapter 3 Auditory Perception We now turn our attention to the evidential verbs of auditory perception, the second most prominent sensory modality. The subject-oriented verbs under investigation are English hear and German hören, which tend to express only two types of evidential meaning: direct auditory perception and the content of first- and second-hand reported information (the latter is known as hearsay). In terms of object-oriented perception verbs, we will look at English sound, as well as German (sich) anhören and klingen. These verbs tend to express inference based on auditory evidence.1 The verbs of auditory perception fail to evince the variety of evidential meanings expressed by verbs of visual perception, but quantitatively speaking, they do enjoy a high frequency of usage and their evidential uses actually occur at a higher rate than their visual counterparts. 3.1 hear 3.1.1 Quantiative Results After see, English hear is the second most frequent occurring perception verb that appears in both the Helsinki and ARCHER corpora. Of a total of 613 instances in the Helsinki Corpus, sixty-seven (10.9%) cases of hear signal evidential meaning. And in the ARCHER Corpus, 200 (24.5%) of 1 For an abbreviated version of arguments made in this chapter, see Whitt 2009. 136 Chapter 3 the 815 attestations of hear are evidential markers. Table 5 below provides us with a breakdown of complementation patterns: Table 5: Occurrences of evidential hear in English language corpora COMPLEMENTATION PATTERN HELSINKI CORPUS ARCHER CORPUS I with that-complementizer without that-complementizer 36 (53.7%) 25 11...

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