Skip to content
BY 3.0 license Open Access Published by De Gruyter Mouton 2019

‘Perhaps’ in Cape York Peninsula

Jean-Christophe Verstraete


This paper analyzes a pattern of epistemic marking that is found in several Paman (Pama-Nyungan) languages of Cape York Peninsula, in the north-east of Australia. Formally, the pattern consists of a marker that is identical to the imperative form of a verb of visual perception, optionally accompanied by an ignorative of the ‘thing’ category or another type of marker. Semantically, these elements mark potential verification, i.e., a weak type of epistemic meaning. The pattern is interesting for two reasons. From a typological perspective, it adds to the inventory of direct lexical sources for epistemic modality that have been identified in the literature. The paper examines the semantics of the pattern in more detail, showing that, at least in its origins, its meaning can be linked to an instruction for verification marked by the imperative of visual perception, with the ignorative as a modal reinforcer. The pattern is also interesting from an areal perspective, because it is attested in five languages from three different subgroups of Paman, which neighbor each other geographically and which are linked by recurrent patterns of personal multilingualism. The spread of the pattern reinforces existing arguments for the identification of a small linguistic area centered on Princess Charlotte Bay and its hinterland, on the east coast of Cape York Peninsula.

© 2018 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Munich/Boston
Scroll Up Arrow