How to know things: evidentials in Amazonia

Alexandra Y. Aikhenvald

in The Languages of the Amazon

Published in print May 2012 | ISBN: 9780199593569
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191739385 | DOI:
How to know things: evidentials in Amazonia

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Every language has a way of saying how one knows what one is talking about, and what one thinks about what one knows. The ways in which the information source can be expressed vary. Evidentiality is a grammatical marking of how we know something — whether we saw it happen, or heard it, or smelt it, or inferred what was happening based on logical assumption, or on a result we can see, or just were told about it. In perhaps a quarter of the world’s languages, marking a selection of information sources is a ‘must’. More than half of these are spoken in Amazonia and the adjacent areas of the Andes. Grammatical evidentiality — a rare bird in familiar Indo-European or Semitic languages — is a distinctive feature of Amazonian languages. They boast the richest array of evidentials in the world. The chapter discusses types of evidential systems in Amazonia. The most complex systems are found in Tucanoan and some Arawak languages of north-west Amazonia and also in Nambiquara languages of the Amazonian south. Evidentials may have complicated meanings, to do with authority and control. One can tell a lie using an evidential. Evidentials are highly diffusable in language contact, since they are associated with cultural practices of being precise in your information source. Once a language becomes obsolescent, evidentials are under threat. The use of evidentials changes as new cultural practices develop.

Keywords: evidentials; control; dreams. language contact; information source

Chapter.  10560 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Historical and Diachronic Linguistics

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