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Epistemic modality

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Epistemic modality

Epistemic modality is a sub-type of linguistic modality that deals with a speaker's evaluation/judgment of, degree of confidence in, or belief of the knowledge upon which a proposition is based. In other words, epistemic modality refers to the way speakers communicate their doubts, certainties, and guesses—their "modes of knowing". More technically, epistemic modality may be defined " (the linguistic expression of) an evaluation of the chances that a certain hypothetical state of affairs under consideration (or some aspect of it) will occur, is occurring, or has occurred in a possible world which serves as the universe of interpretation for the evaluation process… In other words, epistemic modality concerns an estimation of the likelihood that (some aspect of) a certain state of affairs is/has been/will be true (or false) in the context of the possible world under consideration. This estimation of likelihood is situated on a scale going from certainty that the state of affairs applies, via a neutral or agnostic stance towards its occurrence, to certainty that it does not apply, with intermediary positions on the positive and the negative sides of the scale".[1]

Being a sub-type of linguistic modality, epistemic modality can in its turn be classified into a number of sub-types according to various criteria. An original classification of epistemic modality based on the conception of alienated knowledge is given in the work of V. A. Yatsko.[2]


  • Realisation in speech 1
  • Epistemic modality and evidentiality 2
  • See also 3
  • Notes 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6

Realisation in speech

  • (a) grammatically: through
    • modal verbs (e.g., English: may, might, must; German: sollen: Er soll ein guter Schachspieler sein "He is said to be a good chess player"),
    • particular grammatical moods on verbs, the epistemic moods, or
    • a specific grammatical element, such as an affix (Tuyuca: -hīyi "reasonable to assume") or particle; or

Epistemic modality and evidentiality

Some linguists consider evidentiality (the indication of the source of the information upon which a proposition is based) to be a type of epistemic modality, and oppose it to judgement modality as epistemic modality based on the speaker's own judgement.[3] An English example follows:

I doubt that it rained yesterday. (judgement epistemic: judgement of information source)
I heard that it rained yesterday. (evidential: identification of information source)

However, other linguists feel that evidentiality is distinct from and not necessarily related to modality. Some languages mark evidentiality separately from epistemic modality.[4]

See also


  1. ^ Nuyts, 2001, pp. 21–22.
  2. ^ Yatsko, V.A. Logical-semantic aspects of the concept of alienated knowledge. In: Automatic Documentation and Mathematical Linguistics. 1993, VOL.27, N 4. ALLERTON PRESS INC.
  3. ^ Loos, Eugene E.; Susan Anderson; Dwight H. Day, Jr.; Paul C. Jordan; J. Douglas Wingate. "What is epistemic modality?". Glossary of linguistic terms. SIL International. Retrieved 2009-12-28. 
  4. ^ De Haan, pp. 56–59, and references therein.


  • Aikhenvald, Alexandra Y. (2004). Evidentiality. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-926388-4.
  • Aikhenvald, Alexandra Y.; & Dixon, R. M. W. (Eds.). (2003). Studies in evidentiality. Typological studies in language (Vol. 54). Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company. ISBN 90-272-2962-7; ISBN 1-58811-344-2.
  • Blakemore, D. (1994). Evidence and modality. In R. E. Asher (Ed.), The Encyclopedia of language and linguistics (pp. 1183–1186). Oxford: Pergamon Press. ISBN 0-08-035943-4.
  • De Haan, F. (2006). Typological approaches to modality. In W. Frawley (Ed.), The Expression of Modality (pp. 27–69). Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
  • Kiefer, Ferenc. (1986). Epistemic possibility and focus. In W. Abraham & S. de Meij (Eds.), Topic, focus, and configurationality. Amsterdam: Benjamins.
  • Kiefer, Ferenc. (1994). Modality. In R. E. Asher (Ed.), The Encyclopedia of language and linguistics (pp. 2515–2520). Oxford: Pergamon Press. ISBN 0-08-035943-4.
  • Nuyts, J. (2001). Epistemic modality, language, and conceptualization: A cognitive-pragmatic perspective. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company.
  • Palmer, F. R. (1979). Modality and the English modals. London: Longman.
  • Palmer, F. R. (1986). Mood and modality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-26516-9, ISBN 0-521-31930-7.
  • Palmer, F. R. (2001). Mood and modality (2nd ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-80035-8, ISBN 0-521-80479-5.
  • Palmer, F. R. (1994). Mood and modality. In R. E. Asher (Ed.), The Encyclopedia of language and linguistics (pp. 2535–2540). Oxford: Pergamon Press.
  • Saeed, John I. (2003). Sentence semantics 1: Situations: Modality and evidentiality. In J. I Saeed, Semantics (2nd. ed) (Sec. 5.3, pp. 135–143). Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing. ISBN 0-631-22692-3, ISBN 0-631-22693-1.

External links

  • Modality and Evidentiality
  • SIL: mood and modality
  • SIL: epistemic modality
    • SIL: judgment modality: (assumptive mood, declarative mood, deductive mood, dubitative mood, hypothetical mood, interrogative mood, speculative mood)
    • SIL: evidentiality
  • modality in a machine-translation interlingua
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