Evidentiality in linguistics

What is evidentiality in linguistics? In his book Semantics, John Saeed sates that evidentiality is the speaker’s attitude about the certain information.

Take the following sentences about how rich a woman is:

  1. I saw that she was rich.
  2. I read that she was rich.
  3. She was rich, so they say.
  4. I’m told she was rich.
  5. Apparently she was rich.
  6. She was rich, it seems.
  7. Allegedly, she was rich.

Looking at the first sentence, we can see that the speaker actually saw that the woman was rich. The speaker personally verified the facts they are talking about.

In the second sentence the speaker’s certainty towards the notion of a woman being rich is not as strong as the previous statement.

In this third sentence we see that the speaker has heard from a third party that the woman was rich. Here, we begin to see that the speaker may have doubt about how rich the woman was.

As we go further down the sentences, we see that the speaker’s attitude towards the proposition “woman is rich” is less and less certain.

This is evidentiality in semantics.

What to sound more like a native English speaker?

What to read next:

If you like semantics, you should also read about deixis.

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