Epistemic uncertainty and the syntax of speech acts

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This paper examines the problems and contradictions that arise between the linguistic evidence on the one hand, and the theoretical assumptions on the other, in the analysis of modal expressions. Discussing insights from formal and functional perspectives on modality, the concept of certainty is utilised as a means of describing the systematic differences between non-modal and modal expressions, as well as epistemic and non-epistemic modals. Section one analyses the assumption that modals are unified and assesses the evidence for and against this. Section two looks at the debate regarding whether or not epistemics are part of truth evaluable content. This paper suggests that accounts of modal expressions from both theoretical perspectives over-rely on the characterisation of the source of information set, where such characterisation is more properly considered as the domain of Evidentiality. The third and final section suggests a tentative proposal of a dynamic, discourse-oriented solution based on the distinction between certainty and uncertainty.


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