Colloquium: Evidentiality and Varieties of Update

April 12, 3:30-5pm, Cobb 201
Sarah Murray, Cornell University

Many languages grammatically mark evidentiality, i.e., source of information. In assertions, evidentials indicate the source of information of the speaker. In questions, they typically indicate the expected source of information of the addressee, but can have other interpretations, varying by language. Recent research on evidentiality has led to semantic analyses of various languages, including Turkish, Cuzco Quecha, Japanese, Korean, and St’at’imcets, among many others. Morphosyntactically, the evidentials in these languages are clitics, fused with another category, or spread across various syntactic categories. Semantically, the behavior of the evidentials in these languages varies and they have been given a range of analyses from speech act operators to modals with an evidential presupposition.

In Cheyenne (Algonquian: Montana), evidentials are part of the illocutionary mood paradigm. Based on this grammatical system and crosslinguistic data from the literature, I propose a new, truth conditional analysis of evidentials that does not appeal to a separate level of illocutionary meaning. I argue that evidentials contribute not-at-issue content, which cannot be directly challenged or denied. This content is added directly to the common ground, without negotiation. In contrast, at-issue content, the main point of a sentence, is proposed to be added to the common ground, up for negotiation. On this view, the evidential contribution is new and truth-conditional but not part of the main propositional content.

This analysis of evidentials requires a more articulated theory of assertion and other speech acts. In particular, I argue that all speech acts are structured into three components: presentation of the at-issue proposition, a non-negotiable update that directly restricts the common ground, and a negotiable update that imposes structure on the common ground. I give an implementation of this proposal in an update semantics with individual, modal, and propositional discourse referents. Presentation of the at-issue proposition is modeled as introducing a propositional discourse referent. This predicts that only the at-issue proposition can be referred to in subsequent discourse. The non-challengeability of the evidential content, which is not-at-issue, falls out as a special case of propositional anaphora. The distinction between not-at-issue content and at-issue content is modeled as a difference between two varieties of common ground update: direct update (not-at-issue) and proposed update (at-issue).