From the CanIL Blog

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Don't Ask How I Know This

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In languages that use evidentials, asking ‘how do you know this?’ makes little sense. While all languages have some means of specifying sources of information, in about a quarter of the world’s languages, speakers must provide information about the nature of the evidence ('evidentials') on which a statement is based– "whether the speaker saw it, or heard it, or inferred it from indirect evidence, or learned it from someone else." [1]

Languages with obligatory systems for marking evidentiality vary in how specific the distinctions are; the simplest systems distinguish only between two terms, such as eye-witness or non-eyewitness (which may or may not also include auditory information as well as information acquired through other senses). By far the most widespread distinction cross-linguistically is between information that is reported (‘hearsay’) and everything else. Complex evidential systems include up to six or more distinctions. [2]

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