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Epistemic verbs

Epistemic verbs may also be used as evidentials, as is the case with the verb lykje appear, resemble.


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. The evidential interpretation can also be found with the originally epistemic verb lykje appear, 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:

Example 1

a. It liket net sa min
it appears not so bad
It does not look so bad
b. It hat sa't it liket ferzen fannacht
it has as it appears frozen tonight
(So to see), it was freezing last night

Consider the example below, which is ambiguous between an evidential reading and an epistemic one:

Example 2

It liket bêst
it appears best
It looks fine

The evidential use can be distinguished from the epistemic use by the addition of the modal exclamative discourse particle mar but. This particle presupposes the truth of the utterance, and the epistemic use does not presuppose truth:

Example 3

It liket mar bêst!
it appears DcP best
It certainly looks fine

Hence an unambiguously epistemic clause cannot sustain this particle:

Example 4

*Henk liket mar in goed minske!
Henk seems DcP a good person
Henk certainly seems to be a good person

Conversely, the evidential use can be brought out by the addition of a phrase denying the truth of the proposition:

Example 5

Henk liket in goed minske mar dat is hy net
Henk seems a good person but that is he not
Henk seems to be a good person, but he is not

The epistemic use does not allow this, since the presupposed truth will have been added to the context as an entailment:

Example 6

?*It liket bêst mar dat is it net!
it appears best but that is it not
It certainly looks fine, but it is not!

Such a sentence has the feel of echo negation. Syntactically, epistemic verbs do not derive from a transitive counterpart with a Noun Phrase (NP) object as do evidential verbs derived from verbs of perception. However, the epistemic verb discussed here has a transitive counterpart involving an Adposition Phrase (PP) argument. In its transitive use, this verb means resemble.

Example 7

a. Syn situaasje liket op David sines
his situation appears like David his
His situation resembles David's
b. It liket op fleanen
it appears on flying
It looks like nothing

Some usages of these verbs may be ambiguous between an evidential and an epistemic interpretation, or there may be inference relations between these interpretations. As a result, it is difficult to tease the two interpretations apart.

Evidential verbs may also be formed by combining a light verb with a quantifier, as in the example below:

Example 8

It hat der in soad fan dat it trochstutsen kaart wie
it has R a lot of that it rigged card was
It looks a like a put-up job

The quantifier is almost always present in this collocation, though there are examples in which it is absent:

Example 9

It hat der fan dat er hjir stilswijend útgien is fan in ferskriuwing
it has R of that he here silently assumed is of a writing.error
It looks as if here he tacitly assumed a writing error to be present

Other quantifiers may also occur in this collocation such as wat a little, alles everything, neat nothing. The quantifier indicates the confidence degree of an appearance, but even the quantifier everything does not entail the truth of the proposition, as shown below:

Example 10

It hie der alles fan dat Clinton skuldich wie, mar it wie net sa
it had R everything of that Clinton guilty was but it was not so
Clinton gave every appearance of being guilty, but he was not

This idiom allows the user to specify the degree of probability associated with an appearance.