This article explores evidentiality (or the linguistic marking of source of information), a topic that has received little attention in studies on the history of English. Using witness depositions from the witch trials in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692–93 as material, the article reveals that a number of linguistic features are used to indicate source of information, especially verb phrases (e.g., see, hear, tell) and prepositional phrases (e.g., to my knowledge, in my sight). It also shows that direct sensory experience and reports are the most common semantic categories of evidentiality in the documents, while inference and assumption are relatively uncommon. I argue that the depositions use evidential marking in different situations to fulfill a variety of pragmatic functions. For example, the witnesses refer to direct experience (seeing) of the affliction by the apparitions of alleged witches to bring greater credibility to allegations that could usually not be substantiated. More generally, the article demonstrates how concepts such as discourse community, setting, and pragmatic concerns, which have not been systematically considered in studies on early English in North America, are crucial factors for our understanding of the use of english in the period.
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Research Article| February 01 2012
Peter J. Grund; The Nature of Knowledge: Evidence and Evidentiality in the Witness Depositions from the Salem Witch Trials. American Speech 1 February 2012; 87 (1): 7–38. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00031283-1599941
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