Evidentiality in Language and Cognition: The View from Construal Level Theory

Anastasia SmirnovaTufts University, Medford, Massachusetts, United States
Rumen IlievUniversity of Michigan & Northwestern University

Abstract

This paper addresses the question of whether the presence of grammatical category evidentiality in language, traditionally defined as an expression of information source, affects cognitive performance. Our research paradigm bridges together two theoretical perspectives from linguistics and cognitive psychology: (i) the position that evidentiality encodes epistemic commitment, specifically, that evidential forms present events as less certain and psychologically more distant from the here and now; (ii) the assumption that manipulation of psychological distance affects how events are perceived by the speaker, originating from Construal Level Theory. Results from Study 1 provide experimental support for the hypothesis that evidentiality implies psychological distance: evidential forms consistently trigger the perception of an event as being less certain, further remote in time and space, and involving distant social relations. However, Study 2 shows that evidentiality does not affect the level of abstraction with which an event is conceptualized, thus arguing against the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis.

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