Rethinking the communicative functions of evidentiality: Event responsibility in Nanti (Arawakan)


Evidentiality has captured the attention of many socially-oriented students of language because of its relevance to the communicative construction of authority, responsibility, and entitlement. With regards specifically to responsibility, previous work has focused on the role of evidentiality in reducing speakers’ responsibility for the factuality of utterances, an example of a broader phenomenon that I call ‘discourse attribute responsibility’. In this paper I combine ethnographically-informed analyses of interactions among speakers of Nanti, an Arawakan language of Peruvian Amazonia, with grammatical analyses of Nanti evidentials and evidential strategies to show that Nantis deploy these resources to negotiate their own and others’ moral responsibility for happenings in the world, a form of responsibility that I call ‘event responsibility’. I argue that the efficacy of evidentials and evidential strategies in modulating event responsibility results from a chain of inferences that begings with understandings of the proto- typical circumstances under which particular evidentials are used, and leads to inferences about the spatial relationship of the speaker to the event in question, which in turn leads interactants to make inferences about the nature of the speaker’s involvement, and thus, causal responsibility, for the event. Combined with cultural understandings about causal and moral responsibility, interactants reach conclusions regarding the moral responsibility of the speaker for the event in question.

Publication date: 
April 6, 2020
Publication type: 
Recent Publication
Michael, L. (2020). Rethinking the communicative functions of evidentiality: Event responsibility in Nanti (Arawakan) evidential practice. Cadernos de Etnolinguistica, 8(1), 95-123.