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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 4 - Tactile Perception 187


Chapter 4 Tactile Perception We now turn our attention to tactile perception, or sense of touch. Inter- estingly, the two verbs under examination here – English feel and German fühlen – indicate literal tactile perception only seldomly when function- ing as evidential markers. Instead, these verbs are far more prone to focus on internal states of the speaker such as intuition, emotion, and belief as evidence for the propositions under evaluation. And although both these verbs can function as subject-oriented and object-oriented verbs, this dis- tinction is almost impossible to make here because the subject and object of perception are often synonymous, i.e. the SP/W. 4.1 feel 4.1.1 Quantitative Results In the Helsinki Corpus, there are a mere forty-one attestations of the verb feel, three (7.3%) serving as carriers of evidential meaning. The ARCHER Corpus provides us with more data: 675 cases of feel with 133 (19.7%) being used evidentially. Evidential feel is the one verb that attests the widest variety of complementation patterns, and this is no doubt due to its ability to serve as both a subject-oriented and object-oriented perception verb (although, as I just pointed out, this distinction is often less important because the speaker is simultaneously the subject and object of perception). The break- down of construction types can be seen in Table 9: 188 Chapter 4 Table 9: Occurrences of evidential feel in English language corpora COMPLEMENTATION PATTERN HELSINKI CORPUS ARCHER CORPUS I with that-complementizer without that-complementizer 2 (66.7%) – 2 67 (50.4%) 36 31 II – 1...

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