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Person and knowledge: from participant-role to epistemic marking

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Henrik Bergqvist, University of Stockholm, Sweden

Seppo Kittilä, University of Helsinki, Finland



Person and epistemicity is a topic of investigation which has received relatively little attention from a descriptive-typological perspective (but see Bickel 2008; Bickel & Nichols 2007; Tournadre 1996, 2008). Although the notion of egophoricity (a.k.a. conjunct/disjunct) is receiving increasing attention of late (e.g. Creissels 2008, 2009; Floyd et al. forthcoming), the intersection between argument identity (person) and attribution of knowledge/epistemic authority remains to be explored both conceptually and grammatically. The effect that changes to subject person have on the semantics of evidentials (as an instantiation of epistemic marking) has been noted, but largely viewed as a peripheral, pragmatic influence in the analysis of evidential forms (see Curnow 2002b, 2003). These pragmatically dependent readings may, however, become encoded in some languages, resulting in what has been called “participatory” (San Roque & Loughnane 2012) and “performative” evidentials (Oswalt 1986). The functional overlap between such evidential forms and egophoric marking is evident in Tibetan (Tournadre 2008) and Barbacoan languages (Dickinson 2000; Curnow 2002a), although it may be premature to draw any conclusions as to their (inter-)categorical status. A focus of this special issue lies in how ‘person’ as “participant-role” (e.g., the speaker and addressee as agents, beneficiaries, etc.) relates to certain forms of epistemic marking that target the perception, involvement, participation, and attitudes of the speech participants. It explores the relationship between semantic and pragmatic meaning in the development of (nominative) subject markers into egophoric markers and datives into attitude holders/affected experiencers, which in some languages may be regarded as a form of epistemic marking (Bergqvist & Kittilä 2015). This exploration crucially turns on instantiations of ‘person’ and ‘epistemicity’ as related species of “shifters” in language (Jespersen 1922). As pointed out by Jakobson (1990 [1957]), the referential properties of certain categories typically associated with the verb, e.g. person, mood, and evidentiality, crucially draw on aspects of both the speech situation (speech event) and the clause (narrated event). This dichotomy allows for an exploration of the intersection between semantics and pragmatics and is key to charting the role of the context in grammar.


The special issue comprises five papers that discuss the topics listed above from typological and descriptive perspectives. The papers of this volume are the following:

  1. Henrik Bergqvist and Seppo Kittilä: Person and knowledge: Introduction
  2. Marius Zemp: The Origin and Evolution of the Opposition between Testimonial and Factual Evidentials in Purik and Other Varieties of Tibetan
  3. Manuel Widmer & Fernando Zúniga: Egophoricity, Involvement, and Semantic Roles in Tibeto-Burman Languages
  4. Eva Schultze-Berndt: Shared vs. primary epistemic authority in Jaminjung/Ngaliwurru
  5. Dominique Knuchel & Henrik Bergqvist: Complexity in Egophoric Marking: From Agents to Attitude Holders