We are happy to announce a talk by Johannes Mursell (Goethe University) in the Syntax Colloquium.

The talk will take place in person.

Title: Evidentials in German

Date: April 25

Time: 4 pm – 6 pm ct

Room: IG 4.301


In this talk, I discuss various properties of elements in German that have been argued to encode evidential meaning, i.e. meaning related to information source, such as the discourse particle wohl and modals sollen/wollen. Starting with the discourse particle wohl, various authors
(Modicom, 2012; Göbel, 2018; Eckardt and Beltrama, 2019) argue that it serves as inferential evidential, suggesting that the source of the information expressed is based on reasoning from one’s knowledge.

✓ You’re asked where your keys are. You hear the noise of keys inside your bag.
✗ You’re asked where your keys are. You usually leave them in your bag but you can’t quite remember if you did this time.

(1) Sie sind wohl in meiner Tasche.
     they are WOHL in my bag
    ‘They’re in my bag (I infer).’

Second, the modals sollen and wollen can serve as reportative evidentials, expressing the information source as being based on a report, in addition to their uses as deontic or bouletic modals, respectively (Schenner, 2010). In addition to the reportative meaning, wollen also indicates that the report originated from the subject of the clause.

(2) a. Peter soll in Berlin sein.
         Peter SOLL in Berlin be
        ’Reportedly, Peter is in Berlin.’
        ’Peter should be in Berlin’

    b. Peter will in Berlin sein.
        Peter WOLL in Berlin be
        ’Peter claims to be in Berlin.’
        ’Peter wants to be in Berlin’

In the first part of the talk, I will argue that these evidentials in German contribute their evidential meaning on different levels of the clause. While wohl serves as a speech act operator, sollen/wollen show clear properties of being epistemic modals. This suggests that it is impossible to fully reduce all evidentials either to speech act operators (Faller 2002, et seq.) or to epistemic modals (Matthewson et al. 2007, et seq.), even in a language without a fully grammaticalized system of evidentials like German (Tan and Mursell, 2018).

In the second part, I turn to combinations of the two evidentials. In particular, I am interested in two properties of these combinations. The first is the interactions of the evidential contributions, which can be rather complex.

(3) Peter soll wohl in Berlin sein.
     Peter SOLL WOHL in Berlin be
     ’The speaker infers that, based on the report that Peter is in Berlin, he actually might be in Berlin.’

The second property of special interest is the ambiguity of sentences like (2). Due to their alternate uses, sentences containing the modals sollen and wollen can also be understood as deontic (2-a) or bouletic (2-b). Various means can be used to disambiguate the meanings. For
example, using the present perfect leads to a strong preference for the evidential reading (4).

(4) a. Peter soll in Berlin gewesen sein.
          Peter SOLL in Berlin been be
          ’Reportedly, Peter was in Berlin.’
     b. Peter will in Berlin gewesen sein.
         Peter WOLL in Berlin been be
        ’Peter claims to have been in Berlin.’

Furthermore, combining the modals with the discourse particle wohl as in (3) immediately excludes the non-evidential reading.

Eckardt, R. and A. Beltrama (2019). Evidentials and questions. In C. Pinon (Ed.), Empirical
issues in syntax and semantics, Paris, pp. 121–155. CSSP.
Faller, M. (2002). Semantics and pragmatics of evidentials in Cuzco Quechua. Ph. D. thesis,
Stanford University.
Gobel, A. (2018). Evidentiality and undirected questions: a new account of the German dis- ¨
course particle wohl. Penn Working Papers in Linguistics 24:1, 77–86.
Matthewson, L., H. Rullmann, and H. Davis (2007). Evidentials as epistemic modals: Evidence
from St’at’imcets. ´ Linguistic Variation Yearbook 7, 201–254.
Modicom, P.-Y. (2012). Shared knowledge and epistemic reductionism: covert semantics of
German modal particles. In W. Abraham and E. Leiss (Eds.), Covert patterns of modality,
pp. 281–311. Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
Schenner, M. (2010). Embedded evidentials in German. In G. Diewald and E. Smirnova (Eds.),
Linguistic realization of evidentiality in European languages, pp. 157–186. Berlin/New
York: De Gruyter Mouton.
Tan, J. and J. Mursell (2018). Embedding evidence in Tagalog and German. In D. A. C.
Ayoun and L. Lansari (Eds.), Tense, Aspect, Modality, and Evidentiality, Crosslinguistic
perspectives, pp. 187–212. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company.