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Sense Activation Triggering in English Epistentials: Attention Distribution, Contextual Modulation of Meaning, and Categorization Issues

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Drawing on Talmy’s forthcoming The Attention System of Language and elaborating on a series of previous studies, this paper addresses the interrelation of attention distribution, contextual modulation of meaning, and categorization issues in the area of evidentiality and epistemic modality Adopting a corpus-based approach, it will investigate how the default salience levels of evidential and epistemic semantic components in so-called epistentials (linguistic items that syncretistically represent evidential and epistemic components) can be raised, lowered, or even inhibited under the impact of immediately adjacent items that themselves associate evidential or epistemic semantic components (in combinations such as obviously certain or certainly obvious, and of ‘epistential’ adverbs with ‘epistential’ must). All the emerging attentional effects turn out to be asymmetric: the first item in the combination is seen to strengthen the less salient semantic component in the target morpheme, sometimes leading to a re-categorization of the target.

Affiliations: 1: Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz, Germany,


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