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3 Evidentiality in relation to perception and epistemicity

Evidential verbs assert that there is evidence for an assertion. An example of an evidential copula is given below:

Et sjucht läip uut.
it looks bad out
It looks bad.

An evidential verb makes a claim about the outward appearance of things. Hence it is semantically related to the concept of perception (evidence) and to the concept of evaluation. Traditionally, evidential verbs may also be referred to as evaluative verbs.


Both verbs of perception and epistemic verbs may be used as evidential verbs. Perception verbs form a coherent semantic class, including verbs like sjo ‘see’ and here ‘hear’, but also ruke ‘smell’, mundje ‘find tasty’ and fernieme ‘experience’. The verb of visual perception is normally transitive: the theme argument is realised in the object position:

Wie sjo bloot 'n Deel fon de Molksträite.
we see only a part of the Milky.Way
We only see a part of the Milky Way.

When used as a verb of evidentiality, its theme argument is realised in the structural subject position, the verb is accompanied by an adposition and the person doing the perception and its evaluation remains unexpressed.

Gans skräklich sjo ful Wieuwljude uut, do sik hiere Hiere faavje.
completely horrible see many women out that REFL her hair paint
Many women who paint their hair look completely horrible.

The same type of alternation is also found with here ‘to hear’. As a verb of perception it is transitive, and the theme argument is realised as a direct object:

Dät mai hie nit jädden here.
that may he not eagerly hear
He doesn’t like to hear that.

But when it is used as a verb of evidentiality, the theme is realised in the structural subject position, and the verb is accompanied by an adposition:

Dät heert sik an, as wan die Wiend sik laid hiede.
it hears REFL to as when the wind REFL laid had
It sounds like the wind has dropped.

In this case, the verb of hearing has even been reflexivised, unlike the verb of seeing in the earlier example.

Epistemic verbs are verbs which assign a degree of confidence to an assertion, whereas evidential verbs merely assert that there is evidence for an assertion. Epistemic verbs, more specifically verbs of appearance, can be used as evidential verbs, as is characteristically the case with the verb läite ‘to appear’. Thus the evidential interpretation can also be found with this verb, which is formally like a middle in that it involves a thematic object in its subject position. Although knowledge will strongly tend to imply perception, this verb does not have any usage of direct (visual, auditory and so on) perception. Some examples are given below:

Dät Klood lät tou eempeld.
the dress appears too plain
The dress looks too plain.
Dät lät je wät.
that appears indeed what
That looks pretty neat.
Ju Bielde drjucht, dan dät Gezicht lät daach uurs.
the picture deceives because the face looks but different
The picture is deceptive, because the face actually looks different.

Evidential verbs are copular in nature, describing the outward appearance of things. In generative grammar, epistemic verbs such as läite ‘appear’ are viewed as raising verbs, that is, auxiliaries of which the subject position in tensed clauses hosts the subject argument of the predicate which it selects. Raising may be informally explained as a technical mechanism to formally describe a subclass of predications. On evidential verbs in West Frisian, see J. Hoekstra (2009).

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