epistemic modality and ev identiality  

Salinas17 at aol.com Salinas17 at aol.com
Mon Sep 1 20:37:18 UTC 2008

In a message dated 9/1/08 9:31:07 AM, mcarrete at filol.ucm.es writes:
> <<I believe that both I think he is abroad and He is probably abroad 
> involve the making of an inference by the speaker, even though only the first is 
> usually considered as evidential. Therefore, in my view I THINK (as well as 
> PROBABLY) are epistemic, since they expresses degree of certainty (or opinion), 
> but not evidential, since they do not point to the source or kind of evidence 
> on which the degree of certainty is based.>>
Marta - Aren't you pointing here to the inherent difficulty with 
distinguishing between 'epistemic' and 'evidential'?

Take for example:
1) The bridge is washed out.   Others have come back and said so.
2) The bridge is washed out.   You should believe me.
3) I think the bridge is washed out.
4) The bridge is washed out, because I opened the dam.
5) The bridge is washed out, because I heard them say so.
6) The bridge is washed out, because that is my opinion.
7) The bridge is washed out, because I am certain of it.
8) The bridge is washed out.   Turn around.

Take a look at how much these statements tell us about the reason the sta
tement is being made at all. 

In each, I could be telling you this in the expectation of some action on 
your part, ie, turning around.   But when we look at these statements from the 
point of view of disambiguation, only the last one tells us what the objective 
of the statement is.   In the others, I could be asking you to build a new 
bridge, etc.   So, we are already deep into implication no matter how we approach 
those first seven statements.   And in the last, the evidential basis is not 
expressed -- you might be unclear about whether I am deluded or lying, but not 
about what I want you to do.

What stand out, of course, are 5) and 6) above.   But the semantic disjoint 
only appears to be the problem.   Look a little deeper and you'll see I think 
is that the real problem is that, for most of us, belief or certainty simply 
does not operate in the world that way. 

But, if I say, "the world is flat because I believe the world is flat," you 
might not be surprised that I'm expressing a point of view about the physical 
laws of the universe, not misconstructing a sentence.   So too there is a 
circumstance where 5) and 6) do make sense.

The trouble with splitting epistemic and evidential is that the evidential is 
always implied -- it's just deeply hidden in some statements.   "I'm always 
right.   So you should believe me when I say the bridge is washed out," looks 
like it's addressing the credibility of the speaker, but in fact it is all 
about whether the bridge is in fact washed out or not -- and what action should be 
taken on the basis of that statement.   This clearly implies the speaker 
either has evidence or reason to say so, or it is not a meaningful statement.

>>From this point of view, any epistemic statement carries a identifiable 
implication of the evidential.   This is most evident when we speak of the 
'strength' of such statements.

steve long

It's only a deal if it's where you want to go. Find your travel 
deal here.

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