Volume 45, Issue 2
  • ISSN 0378-4177
  • E-ISSN: 1569-9978
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Native deaf signers express epistemic modality by different means: mental-state words, clause-internal particles, signs indicating hypothesis, and nonmanually. The data for this study come from two unrelated sign languages, Danish Sign Language and Japanese Sign Language. In dialogues the signers use both calques of majority-language words and signs that appear to have emerged in the sign languages only. Based on the multifunctionality of some word forms, the origin of the epistemic modal particles may be traced back to tags, interjections, and lexical signs, a route motivated by interaction and also found in unrelated spoken languages. Furthermore, in both sign languages, the first-person pronoun can be used, without a verb, as an epistemic “anchor” of a proposition, a construction that seems specific to languages in the gestural-visual modality. Another modality-specific feature is the possibility of transferring the expression of a marker of epistemic uncertainty from one articulator to another.


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