13.1976, Review: Semantics/Pragmatics: Ifanitidou (2001)

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LINGUIST List:  Vol-13-1976. Thu Jul 25 2002. ISSN: 1068-4875.

Subject: 13.1976, Review: Semantics/Pragmatics: Ifanitidou (2001)

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Date:  Thu, 25 Jul 2002 00:44:22 +0000
From:  Stanka A. Fitneva <saf13 at cornell.edu>
Subject:  Ifanitidou (2001) Evidentials and Relevance

-------------------------------- Message 1 -------------------------------

Date:  Thu, 25 Jul 2002 00:44:22 +0000
From:  Stanka A. Fitneva <saf13 at cornell.edu>
Subject:  Ifanitidou (2001) Evidentials and Relevance

Ifantidou, Elly (2001) Evidentials and Relevance.
John Benjamins Publishing Company, x+225pp, hardback ISBN 1-58811-302-X,
$73.00, Pragmatics & Beyond New Series, 86.

Book Announcement on Linguist:

Stanka A. Fitneva, Cornell University

Since its inception, relevance theory has established itself as a
major theory in pragmatics. This book expands the domain of
application of the theory into the universe of evidentials.

Infantidou defines evidentials broadly. She includes under this term
both the marking of the source of knowledge (as in "I SEE him coming")
and the speaker's commitment to the truth of what is being said (as in
"I GUESS he is coming"). Any form conveying such meanings is
considered an evidential: words (as above), morphemes (not available
in English), intonation patterns (a declarative sentence by itself
implies the commitment of the speaker to what is said).

Infantidou sets out to answer three questions about evidentials:

1. What is the scope of pragmatic inference in deriving evidential
   meaning relative to decoding this meaning?

2. Is the meaning of evidentials truth-conditional?

3. Is evidential information implicitly or explicitly communicated?

Each of these questions is central to the study of meaning. Putting
them together and identifying a single theory - the relevance
framework - that can provide answers to all of them is a major
contribution of the monograph.

With these questions as the backdrop, Infantidou reviews the relevant
aspects of pre-Gricean speech-act theory (Chapter 2), Gricean theory
(Chapter 3), and relevance theory (Chapter 4). Special attention is
given the tools developed by each one that are relevant to the goals
of the study. In the subsequent chapters, Infantidou applies these
tools to sentence adverbials (Chapter 5), parenthetical expressions
(Chapter 6), and evidential particles (Chapter 7). The examples of
adverbials (e.g., OBVIOUSLY, the ball is over the line) and
parentheticals (e.g., The ball, I THINK, is over the line) are drawn
from English. The evidential particle is from Greek: "taha" (it

The author's analysis unveils inadequacies in the speech- act and
Gricean conceptual repertoires. Sometimes these inadequacies lead to
lack of explanation of the properties of evidentials, sometimes to
wrong predictions about these properties. In contrast, the analysis
quite plainly demonstrates the power and elegance of the conceptual
tools of relevance theory. The notions of explicature, conceptual
vs. procedural meaning, and descriptive vs. interpretative use of
utterances, uniquely present in the relevance framework, serve to
develop satisfactory answers to the questions the author had asked.

Infantidou concludes that evidential and hearsay adverbials are
truth-conditional and contribute to the explicit aspect of
communication. Parenthetical expressions, on the other hand, do not
contribute to the truth conditions of the utterance but are again part
of explicit communication. Finally, particles are truth-conditional
and contribute to the explicit aspect of communication (just like
hearsay and evidential adverbials). For all expressions, pragmatic
inference plays a major role in their interpretation (e.g., the
strength of an assertion with the parenthetical "I think" depends on
who the speaker is.)

The monograph, an outgrowth of the author's dissertation work, is
directed to a professional audience and would be of special interest
to those working on evidentiality and the semantics-pragmatics
interface. It reviews exhaustively the relevant theoretical issues and
meticulously assesses the linguistic materials. Overall, evidentiality
researchers may have to make a larger stretch than semanticists and
pragmatists in reading the book.

Some of the author's choices, though, might puzzle any reader. For
example, she dedicates three chapters on the three theoretical
frameworks and then analyzes the linguistic material within each
framework. Predictably, this has lead to some cumbersomeness in the
presentation. Another example is in the discussion of adverbials where
she uses "evidential" as a class and a superclass label. (Infantidou
writes about attitudinal, illocutionary, evidential, and hearsay
adverbials. But all of them seem to be evidential according to the
author's definition!)

I want to make two further remarks: one on the scope of the definition
of evidentials and the other one on the scope of the research
conclusions. Both require the author's clarification.

The book starts by defining its research domain, evidentials, rather
broadly. Infantidou's analysis though suggests that evidential
constructions differ at least in their contribution to the
truth-conditional meaning of utterances. Given this difference, one
might question the initial decision to treat evidentiality
broadly. Infantidou however does not examine her initial assumptions
in the light of this finding. Note that other researchers suggest
narrowing the definition of the term and segregating the meanings and
forms Infantidou puts under the same umbrella. For example, Scott
DeLancey (1997, 2001) argues that the speaker's confirmation of the
truth of the statement is a category separate from the marking of
information source and he calls the former "mirativity."

With regard to the second issue, the scope of the research
conclusions, the monograph does not meet the expectation set up by the
definition of evidentiality that the topics of pragmatic inference,
truth-conditionality, and communicative explicitness would be
discussed relative to the broad base of facts about the various
evidential meanings and constructions in the world languages. How
revealing is the analysis of English adverbials and parentheticals,
and the Greek particle "taha" vis-a-vis the properties of evidentials
in other languages? Should we expect that analogous evidential
constructions in other languages share the semantic/pragmatic
characteristics of the studied constructions? Infantidou's answer is
not clear. A clear position, even without evidence, would have helped
frame the discourse between the present work and the researchers
working on evidentiality in other languages.


DeLancey, S. (1997) Mirativity: The grammatical marking of unexpected
information. Linguistic Typology 1(1), 33-52.

DeLancey, S. (2001) The mirative and evidentiality.  Journal of
Pragmatics, 3, 369-382.


Stanka Fitneva is a graduate student at Cornell University working on
evidentiality and sentence processing.


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