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Title: Epistemic Modality and Evidentiality in Gitksan at the Semantics-Pragmatics Interface
Authors: Peterson, Tyler Roy Gösta
Keywords: Tsimshian Languages
American Indigenous Languages (Northern)
Issue Date: 2010
Publisher: University of British Columbia
Abstract: The aim of this dissertation is to provide an empirically driven, theoretically informed investigation of how speakers of Gitksan, a Tsimshianic language spoken in the northwest coast of Canada, express knowledge about the world around them. There are three main goals that motivate this investigation, summarized below: (1) (i.) To provide the first detailed description of the evidential and modal system in Gitksan. (ii.) To provide a formal semantic and pragmatic account of this system that adequately explains the meanings of the modals and evidentials, as well as how they are used in discourse. (iii.) To identify and examine the specific properties the Gitksan evidential/modal system brings to bear on current theories of semantics and pragmatics, as well as the consequences this analysis has on the study of modality and evidentiality cross-linguistically. In addition to documenting the evidential and modal meanings in Gitksan, I test and work through a variety of theoretical tools from the literature designed to investigate evidentiality and modality in a language. This begins by determining what level of meaning the individual evidentials in Gitksan operate on. The current state of research into the connection between evidentiality and epistemic modality has identified two different types of evidentials defined by the level of meaning they operate on: propositional and illocutionary evidentials. These two types correspond to a distinction between modal evidentials and non-modal evidentials respectively. I show that Gitksan has both modal and non-evidentials. This leads to an analysis where the Gitksan modal evidentials are treated as a specialized type of epistemic modals, and the non-modal evidentials are sentential force specifiers. I also identify various features of the evidential system that bring specific issues to bear upon current theories of the semantics and pragmatics of modality. This has four outcomes: first, I present a novel analysis of variable modal force in modals with fixed quantification: variable modal force in Gitksan modal evidentials is determined by the ordering source. Secondly, I discuss Conjectural Questions: when a modal evidential is added to a question it reduces the interrogative force of the question. This follows from the modal semantics of evidentials. Thirdly, I introduce the notion of Pragmatic blocking: modal and non-modal evidentials interact in discourse contexts, and implicate a speaker’s attitude towards the evidence they have for a proposition. And fourthly, I develop the first formal analysis of mirativity and non-literal uses of evidentials, analyzing them both as cases of conversational implicature.
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