Colloquia Green

Evidentials as Sentence Types and Sentence Type Modifiers
– Evidence from South American Indeginous Languages –

In all languages, speakers can express how they acquired the information that they are transmitting. Some languages use lexical and others grammatical means, that is, evidentials, to do this. There is tremendous crosslinguistic variation in the expression of evidentiality: languages express different evidential meanings, such as direct evidentiality, indirect evidentiality, inferentiality, reportativity etc. and these meanings are expressed by different elements, such as verbal affixes, clitics, particles etc. In my dissertation (Bruil, 2014), I argued that this variation is not just a superficial one; it is due to the fact that evidentials can function within different domains of the language, such as tense, aspect, and sentence-typing. I will focus on the latter type of evidentials in this talk.

It has been known for a long time that evidentials and sentence types interact (Aikhenvald, 2004). Sentence-typing is the grammatical marking of the function of a sentence (König & Siemund, 2007). Examples of crosslinguistically common sentence types are declarative, interrogative, and imperative. Nevertheless, it has not been discussed in the typological literature that the effects of this interaction can tell us more about the semantics of the evidential. An interesting example of a language in which evidentiality and sentence-typing interact is Ecuadorian Siona. In this language, the reportative is part of the sentence-typing system. The reportative, a verb form that speakers use when they report what someone else has said, is mutually exclusive with the assertive, interrogative, and the imperative sentence type. It is semantically different from the other sentence types, because speakers do not vouch for the information when they use a reportative, they just present the information without saying if it is true or false. Because the Ecuadorian Siona reportative behaves both structurally and semantically as a sentence type, I analyze it as a fourth sentence type in the language.

There are languages in which evidentials show similar behavior to that of the Ecuadorian Siona reportative: when they are used, the function of the sentence changes. This is the case for the Cuzco Quechua reportative clitic. When this clitic is used in a declarative sentence, speakers do not vouch for the information they are presenting. However, this clitic cannot be analyzed as a sentence type, because it is not mutually exclusive with other sentence types. It can, for instance, be used in content questions rendering the effect that the speaker asks the question on behalf of someone else. The function of the sentence has changed: the role of the inquirer is shifted away from the speaker to a non-speech act participant. Therefore, I analyze this type of evidentials as sentence type modifiers. In this talk, I will discuss and compare the semantic features of both of these evidential types.


Aikhenvald, A. Y. (2004). Evidentiality. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Bruil, M. (2014). Clause-typing and evidentiality in Ecuadorian Siona. PhD Thesis, Leiden University.

König, E., & Siemund, P. (2007). Speech Act Distinctions in Grammar. In T. Shopen, Language Typology and Syntactic Description, Second Edition (Vol. 1, pp. 276-324). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


9 FEB 2017 | MPI Room 163 | 15.45 – 17.00