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Review of  Evidentiality and Epistemological Stance: Narrative Retelling

Reviewer: Grace E. Fielder
Book Title: Evidentiality and Epistemological Stance: Narrative Retelling
Book Author: Ilana Mushin
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Pragmatics
Book Announcement: 13.1807

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Date: Thu, 20 Jun 2002 15:00:11 -0700
From: Grace Fielder <>
Subject: Mushin, Evidentiality and epistemological stance

Mushin, Ilana. (2001) Evidentiality and epistemological
stance: narrative retelling. John Benjamins Publishing
Company, xiv+240pp, hardback ISBN 90 272 5106 (Europe)
EUR 81.68 / 1 58811 033 8 (US), $82.00. Pragmatics and beyond, NS 87

Grace E. Fielder, University of Arizona


This book examines the discourse and pragmatic conditioning
of expressions of epistemological stance assumed in the
retelling of narratives. The first half of the book is a
critical discussion of evidential semantics as a linguistic
category versus epistemological stance as a discourse
pragmatic category. The second half of the book is a
cross-linguistic study of epistemological assessment in
narrative retelling using elicited data from Macedonian,
Japanese and English, languages that show three different
types of evidential systems. The various factors
influencing speaker choices of reportive strategies are
then examined within the framework of Deictic Centre

Chapter 1 "Introduction" provides an introduction to the
cognitive notion of subjectivity in language, i.e. the
subjective relationship of the speaker towards the
information and towards the speech situation, which
underlies both evidentiality and epistemological stance.
Thus, an objective utterance is one in which there is a
maximal distinction between the conceptualiser (subject)
and the experience (object), while in an subjective
utterance the conceptualiser is more involved in the
construal of the experience. The displacement of
subjectivity, i.e. the construal of states of affairs from
a vantage point other than the here and now of the
speaker/conceptualiser, is examined using Deictic Centre
Theory (DCT), developed to account for the distribution of
deictic forms in fictional narrative but extended here to
conversational narratives. DCT models a deictically
oriented 'window' onto the narrative world, an origin of
perspective (the subject/speaker) and an object of
perspective (the content of the deictic window). The degree
to which the information is perspectivized is
representative of the degree to which the origin and object
of perspective are located in the same domain. An important
point made here is that subjectivity is a scalar notion
that is operative over several different domains: the
cognitive, the pragmatic and the linguistic.

Chapter 2 "Evidentiality" presents a critical overview of
evidential semantics and evidential systems. The purpose
is to provide a description of the more linguistically
concrete manifestations of evidentiality before proceeding
to the more abstract, discourse manifestations of
epistemological stance. The distinction is made between
broad and narrow evidential semantics (Chafe 1986). The
narrow, or canonical, definition has to do with types of
information source, e.g., visually attested, reported,
inferring, and is typically associated with languages that
have morphologically encoded evidentials, such as Quechua.
The broader interpretation espoused by Mushin is that
evidentiality reflects the speaker's attitude towards
knowledge, which can include information source, as being
more appropriate for languages with less elaborate means of
encoding evidential meaning, in particular, Macedonian and
Japanese. The author sets up a scalar relationship between
the degree of contextualization required for the
interpretation of source and the degree to which the use of
the form implies a particular degree of speaker commitment.
Quechua is an example of a highly grammaticalized category
of evidentiality. The morpheme -shi explicitly codes that
the speaker heard the information from someone else and
thus Quechua represents one end of the scale where there is
a context free interpretation of source and a weak
implication of the degree of the speaker commitment.
English occupies the opposite end of the scale since it
lacks any grammaticalized markers of evidentiality and
instead resorts to other means, such as the use of
epistemic 'must' in a highly contextualized interpretation
of source with a strong implication of degree of speaker

Mushin places the Balkan Slavic l-forms at a
mid-way point. The situation for standard Macedonian
(Friedman 1986) is that the semantics of the evidential
distinction derives from the simple past tense forms as
marked for the grammatical category of status (in other
words, use of the simple past indicates that the speaker
vouches for the information) and arises pragmatically from
the conventional inference that if a speaker vouches for
information, then s/he is likely to have witnessed it.
This half of the chapter makes a strong contribution in
that it points out the difficulties of providing a coherent
description of evidential meaning within a strictly
semantic model, thus motivating the author's consideration
of the pragmatic component. The second half is less
persuasive in that it attempts to classify the status of
evidentiality in language according to concrete criteria
taken from grammaticalization theory (Lehmann 1985). The
degree of grammaticalization of any evidential marker has
to do with whether or not the forms in question are closed
class items, occur in fixed morphological slots, have
'bleached' semantics, hyperextended use or reduced form.
Thus, in Quechua, evidential forms are considered to be
highly grammaticalized since they are bound enclitic
morphemes: -mi for 'direct experience', -shi for
'reported/hearsay' and -ch(r)a/-chi for 'inference' (Weber
1986 and Floyd 1993). These criteria are later applied to
Macedonian, Japanese and English in Chapter 5. While this
discussion of grammaticalization is informative, it is less
central to the ultimate aims of this study.

Chapter 3 "Epistemological Stance" constitutes a
significant contribution to the dialogue on evidentiality.
The discussion deals with how speakers talk about their
epistemological status, i.e. it is concerned with the
relationship of function to form, rather than that of form
to function. The function to form approach is motivated by
the mismatches between the actual source of information and
its evidential coding in languages not only in English
which lacks grammaticalized evidential forms, but even in
Quechua where they are highly grammaticalized. Mushin
argues that a given epistemological stance with its
concomitant linguistic choices is adopted by a speaker
based not only on the actual source of information, but
also the speaker's assessment of the actual source in
conjunction with the interactional setting, and the
speaker's assessment of the interaction. Accordingly,
there is a wide range of different epistemological stances
can be adopted with respect to the same piece of
information: personal experience (both private and
perceptual), reportive, inferential, factual and
imaginative. Personal experience represents a highly
subjective stance where the conceptualiser is evoked,
whereas a factual stance is highly objective with the
speaker assuming a more distanced stance. What is
important here is that a speaker can chose to position
themselves anywhere along this array of stances, although
the actual adoption of a given stance in a given context is
mitigated by cultural and linguistic factors. The
remaining chapters specifically address the contextual,
cultural and conceptual factors that limit a speaker's
linguistic choices.

Chapter 4 "Epistemological stance adoption in narrative
retelling" discusses the methodology by which the corpus of
retellings was elicited and recorded in Macedonian,
Japanese and English. The reteller was exposed to the
original input of personal experience either by hearing it
directly from the original teller or by listening to a
recording of the original teller (who was recorded telling
the story to another native speaker of the language in
question). The reteller was then asked to retell the story
to at least one native speaker who belonged to the same
speech community as the original teller. Thus, the group
of speakers was controlled for spoken dialect and shared
cultural knowledge. The retellings were then compared with
the original and with the other retellings. In analyzing
the corpus, the author makes a primary distinction between
"narrative" information (information that could be linked
to information in the previous telling of the story) and
"extranarrative" information (information that expressed a
reteller's own experience). Narrative units that directly
represented the speech of characters as they spoke in the
story were coded separately as 'content' units. According
to DCT, each unit is associated with a particular origin
and object of perspective, which is in turn associated with
an expected epistemological stance. Extranarrative units
represent an external origin of perspective and an external
object of perspective, hence a personal experience
epistemological stance would be expected, but not required.
Narrative units represent an external origin of perspective
but an internal object of perspective and thus a reportive
stance is expected. Content units represent an internal
origin of perspective and an internal object of perspective
and thereby one would expect the epistemological stance of
the speaking character.

Chapter 5 "Reportive epistemological stance realisation in
Macedonian, Japanese and English" examines the range of
linguistic devices used by speakers in the narrative
retelling tasks. Macedonian is classified as having a
grammaticalized system of evidential coding in that the
grammatical properties of the forms involved meet the
criteria established in Chapter 2. Although this would seem
to put the Macedonian evidential at the same level as
languages such as Quechua, this is clearly not the case.
The issue of the grammaticalization of the evidential in
Balkan Slavic has been and still is the subject of debate.
(For the most recent round of discussions with extensive
background evidentiality in Bulgarian, see Alexander 2002,
Fielder 2002 and Friedman 2002.) Mushin takes the position
that in Macedonian the past tense forms express deixis
temporally and epistemologically. The simple past
functions deictically a) to temporally index the time of
the event as prior to the speaking time and b) to
epistemologically index the event to the experiencer of
that event. In contrast, the L-form functions deictically
(a) to temporally index the time of the event as prior to
the speaking time, and (b) to epistemologically delink the
event to the experiencer. This position keeps Mushin's
analysis consistent with Friedman 1986, as well as with
Fielder's analysis of narrative strategies in Balkan Slavic
as primarily deictic in their semantics but pragmatic in
their utilization (Fielder 1995, 1997 and 1998).

Once the speaker chooses to use the past tense, a choice
must be made to deictically link to the experiencer or assert
no link. Thus, while agreeing with Friedman's position that
L-forms do not explicitly code source of information in
Macedonian, rather speaker attitude is coded by the simple
past forms, Mushin suggests that speakers do choose simple
pasts or L-forms according to epistemological stance
adopted, but that this decision is based on extralinguistic
factors. Epistemological stance then does not necessarily
reflect the actual source of information. Rather, the L-
form past functions as the 'default' past tense form in
retellings and are conventionally associated with
information acquired from another source. Mushin's
analysis of the Macedonian corpus reveals two other
retelling strategies: reportive framing whereby the speaker
uses extranarrative means to indicate that the retelling is
a retelling and evidential direct speech which essentially
shifts the deictic perspective so that the reteller is
backgrounded and the original teller is foregrounded (see
also Fielder 1997, 1998 and 1999 for discussions of
grounding as a narrative strategy in Balkan Slavic).

In the Japanese corpus, the strategies of extranarrative
reportive framing and evidential reported speech were also
found as well the use of the sentence final particle -tte,
which has many properties of a grammatical marker of
reportive evidentiality (Okamoto 1995; Suzuki 1997), and
the adjectival predicate rashii, which is an lexical
inferential marker (Aoki 1986) that functions as an
evidential marker in the context of a retelling. According
to the grammaticalization criteria from Chapter 2, Japanese
does not have as highly grammaticalized evidential system
as Macedonian since it is not clear the -tte particle meets
the criteria of hyperextension and reduced form and rashii
is a lexical marker.

The third language, English, has no clear grammatical
markers of evidentiality. In general, retellers adopted a
reportive epistemological stance far less frequently than
in Macedonian and Japanese. There was, however, a range of
strategies, narrative and extranarrative, that could be
identified. As in Macedonian and Japanese, some English
retellers used reportive frames by introducing their
version of the story as a retelling. Mushin found no use
of the strategy of evidential direct speech, but there were
some examples of evidential indirect speech, which she
regards as relatively objective mode of representation,
since it indexes the content of speech to the previous
telling of the story. The main strategy available to
English for assuming a reportive epistemological stance is
to use reportive adverbials, such as apparently and
evidently, which indicate the propositional attitude of the
speaker. The conclusion of this chapter is that the fact
that each language has a variety of different reporting
strategies provides support for viewing epistemological
stance as a cognitive/pragmatic phenomenon, independent of
any linguistic realization.

Chapter 6 "Reportive strategies in narrative retelling"
provides a quantitative analysis of the distribution of
reportive strategies by using a "reportive density index"
(RDI). The RDI represents the rate of reportive coding per
narrative clause. A higher RDI (up to 1.0) corresponds to
high degree of narrative information directly under the
scope of some reportive marker and therefore reflects a
reportive epistemological stance. By the same token, a
lower RDI reflects a more imaginative epistemological
stance. The calculation of RDI was applied exclusively to
narrative clauses, since they represent information
acquired from the previous storyteller, while
extranarrative clauses and content clauses of direct speech
and thought were excluded. What is significant here are
the large grain generalizations that can be made for the
three languages. The RDI is relatively high for both
Macedonian and Japanese, while far lower for English.
Thus, Macedonian and Japanese speakers favored the
reportive epistemological stance, while English speakers
did not. Moreover, both Macedonian and Japanese favored
narrative reportive strategies over extranarrative. Mushin
attributes the high RDI of Macedonian to the grammatical
status of the L-forms and the fact that speakers must
choose an epistemological stance when using past tense verb
forms. What is interesting here is that Japanese patterns
with Macedonian with respect to the RDI, but unlike the
Macedonian L-forms, Japanese -tte is not part of an
obligatory grammatical category. In this respect, Japanese
more closely resembles English. Why, then, does it pattern
with Macedonian? The explanation, according to Mushin,
lies in the pragmatic factors underlying the retelling of
stories of personal experience. Extralinguistic factors
motivate the speaker to select certain storytelling
strategies, namely

1) the cultural imperatives that guide speakers to make
particular linguistic choices based on what is socially and
culturally appropriate

2) the coherence imperatives that motivate retellers to
reconstruct a comprehensible and 'listenable' story, and to
represent the narrative information in a way that reflects
a felicitous epistemological interpretation of the story

Since discourse coherence pressures are assumed to be
universal across the three languages, it is the "cultural
imperative" that provides the explanation. Japanese
patterns with Macedonian because it is culturally important
for Japanese speakers to indicate in whose "Territory of
Information (Kamio 1979, 1994, 1995, 1998) the information
lies. For English speakers it is apparently more important
to tell a good story, which explains the more frequent
adoption of an imaginative epistemological stance. The
reason why Macedonian has a high RDI is simply attributed
to the fact that "speakers of the language have
conventionalised the relationship between type of
information and epistemological stance" because there must
have been some pragmatic imperative to do so. What this
pragmatic imperative might be, however, is not pursued (but
see Fielder 1998 and 2000 for the historical development of
evidentiality in Balkan Slavic).

Chapter 7 "Deviations from a reportive epistemological
stance" is, after Chapter 6, the most interesting chapter
in that it is a hands on discourse analysis using DCT to
explain why there are deviations from the default
epistemological stance at the local level. In Macedonian
and Japanese, the use of strategies that evoke a direct
experience epistemological stance serve an expressive
function. A shift from the perspective of the reteller to
the perspective of the character results in a more dramatic
and expressive story. In the English corpus, where the
overwhelming tendency was to adopt an imaginative (i.e.
direct experience) epistemological stance, shifts to a
reportive epistemological stance typically served pragmatic
functions such as indicating the climax of a story or a
memory laps). An analysis of referring expressions in the
English corpus, however, proves useful for indicating whose
epistemological stance was being represented.

The strengths of this study are the author's meticulous
attention to both the quantitative and qualitative aspects
of analysis and the important distinction she makes between
evidentiality as a semantico-grammatical category and
epistemological stance as a pragmatic and cognitive entity.
The cross-linguistic results would have more validity,
however, if a similar group of Macedonian speakers had been
selected as for the Japanese and English speakers, i.e.
undergraduate and graduate students at a university. The
fact that the Macedonian speakers are significantly older
speakers from a southwestern dialect group who emigrated
over 20 years ago calls into the question the relevance of
the author's claims with respect to standard Macedonian.
At the same time, it is notable that Mushin's results are
consistent with those of Fielder 1999 and forthcoming which
examines narrative strategies in the eastern dialects of
Macedonia. To conclude, I would recommend this book highly
to anyone interested in problems of evidentiality and the
discourse-pragmatics of narrative.


Alexander, R. 2002. "Bridging the descriptive chasm: the
Bulgarian "Generalized Past". Of All the Slavs My
Favorites: In honor of Howard I. Aronson, eds. V. Friedman
and D. Dyer, Indiana Slavic Studies 12:13-42.

Fielder, G. 1997. "The Discourse Properties of Verbal
Categories in Bulgarian and the Implication for Balkan
Verbal Categories." Gedenkschrift for Professor Zbigniew
Golab, eds. V. Friedman, M. Belyavski-Frank M. Pisaro and
D. Testen, Balkanistika 10, pp. 162-84.

Fielder, G. 1998. "Discourse Function of Past Tenses in
Pre-Modern Balkan Slavic Prose." Proceedings of the
Twelfth International Congress of Slavists, eds. M. Flier
and A. Timberlake, pp. 344-361. Slavica.

Fielder, G. 1999. "Auxiliary Use and the l-participle in
Eastern Macedonian dialects." Proceedings of the Third
North American-Macedonian Conference on Macedonian Studies,
Toronto, Ontario, June 12-14, 1997 (In Honor of Professor
Horace G. Lunt, on the Occasion of His 80th Birthday), eds.
C. Kramer and B. Cook, Indiana Slavic Studies 10:57-69.

Fielder, G. 2000. "Development of Narrative Strategies in
18th and 19th century Balkan Slavic Prose". Festschrift
for Dean S. Worth, eds. L. Ferder and J. Dingley, pp. 87-
106. Bloomington: Slavica.

Fielder, G. 2002. "Questioning the dominant paradigm: an
alternative view of the grammaticalization of the Bulgarian
evidential." Of All the Slavs My Favorites: In honor of
Howard I. Aronson, eds. V. Friedman and D. Dyer, Indiana
Slavic Studies 12:171-201.

Fielder, G. forthcoming. "The Perfect in Eastern Macedonian
Dialects." [Forthcoming]. Proceedings of the Fourth
North-American-Macedonian Conference. 5-7, August 2000,
Ohrid, Macedonia.

Friedman, V. 2002. "Hunting the elusive evidential: the
third-person auxiliary as a Boojum in Bulgarian." Of All
the Slavs My Favorites: In honor of Howard I. Aronson, eds.
V. Friedman and D. Dyer, Indiana Slavic Studies 12:203-230.

About the reviewer Grace E. Fielder is Professor of Balkan and Slavic Linguistics at the University of Arizona. Primary research interests are discourse and pragmatic analysis, language contact and issues of language and identity. µ