Evidential marking in spoken English Linguistic functions and gender variation

University dissertation from Uppsala : Department of English

Abstract: This thesis investigates the marking of evidentiality in spoken British English. Evidentiality is the linguistic expression of whether and how a speaker/writer has access to evidence for or against the truth of a proposition, and it is usually manifested in the form of sensory evidentiality (e.g. I saw Sam leave), hearsay evidentiality (e.g. They say Sam left), or inferential evidentiality (e.g. Sam obviously left). In the examples, the bold words exemplify evidentiality markers. The aims of this thesis are to investigate whether there are quantitative differences between women and men in how often they mark evidentiality, and to analyze the functions of evidentiality in interaction in order to formulate an explanation of any gender differences.The material comes mainly from the spoken portion of the British National Corpus (BNC), but also from the Diachronic Corpus of Present-day Spoken English (DCPSE). In Article 1, women and men were compared with respect to how frequently they marked inferential evidentiality; gender preferences for specific markers were also analyzed. In Article 2, the effects of speaker gender and speaker age on how frequently evidentiality markers are used were investigated. In Article 3, the marking of evidentiality in conversation was analyzed to explore the potential of evidentiality to be instrumental in relational practice. In Article 4, speakers were ranked according to the extent to which their speech displayed stereotypically feminine or masculine features. The language of a subset of speakers was then analyzed to investigate whether evidential markers are used for different functions depending on gendered styles.In the studies of this thesis, women were found to mark evidentiality more frequently than men. Further, the language of women as well as language characterized by a feminine style were found more likely to feature evidential markers referencing evidence that is only accessible to the speaker, whereas the language of men and language characterized by a masculine style are more likely to feature evidential markers referencing evidence that is accessible to other interlocutors in addition to the speaker. Evidential marking was found to often perform relational functions; in particular, evidentiality enables the speaker to negotiate authority in a less face-threatening manner. Evidential marking seems likely to occur when the addressee’s interpretation of an utterance is important to the speaker. Since previous studies have found women’s language to display more often a concern for the experiences of others, this characteristic might partly explain the quantitative gender variation.