A short history of English epistemic indefinites


In modern English there are two primary epistemic indefinites, some NP and some NP or other which bear distinct pragmatic properties, differing from one another both with respect to signalling how the speaker is (un)able to identify the individual in question and with respect to their relation to specificity. This chapter provides a preliminary examination of the synchronic and diachronic properties of these two English epistemic indefinites, along with other constructions associated with epistemicity, such as Old English postnominal nathw-. Texts from the Old English, Middle English, Early Modern English, and Modern English periods are examined in order to determine the development of the epistemic and specific uses of various constructions.

Epistemic Indefinites: Exploring Modality Beyond the Verbal Domain, edited by Luis Alonso-Ovalle & Paula Menéndez-Benito, Oxford: Oxford University Press: 100-113
Benjamin Slade
Benjamin Slade
Associate Professor of Linguistics

My research interests include formal semantics and syntax, historical linguistics, South Asian and Caribbean languages, and the use of computational concepts in formal linguistics.