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Evidentiality and Perception Verbs in English and German

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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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Conclusion 219

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Conclusion I hope this study has shed some light on how perception verbs can signal evidential meaning. It has certainly confirmed certain aspects of earlier research on perception verbs. For example, the quantitative data alone support the perception verb hierarchy established by Viberg (1983): verbs of visual perception (Chapter 2) enjoy the highest frequency of usage (in both their non-evidential uses and in the variety of evidential meanings they express), verbs of auditory perception (Chapter 3) are next, then come the verbs that signify tactile perception (Chapter 4), and lastly we have the verbs of olfaction and gustation (Chapter 5). The degree of polysemy found among the evidential uses of perception verbs confirms the claims of Sweetser (1990: 23–48) and Harm (2000), for the bases of evidential meanings (e.g. direct perception, knowledge, understanding, inference, intuition) can also be expressed by perception verbs in their non-evidential uses. For example, in the sentence I see your point, the perception verb see means ‘understand’, and understanding and knowledge are also a type of evidence that see can indicate when used evidentially. This study also reveals that more polysemy can be found – at least insofar as evidential meaning is concerned – among subject-oriented perception verbs than object-oriented perception verbs. In addition, English and German, the two languages under consideration in this study, display a remarkable similarity in how their verbs of perception are used evidentially. English hear and its German counterpart hören, for example, express the same evidential meanings when they occur in...

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