Yes, I've already read about irrealis and evidentials in wikipedia.

It seems like these are talking about the same issue, except possibly the concepts arose separately to describe how each work in different languages (maybe a bad analogy is genitive and possessive in Russian and English-- same core thing, but different terminology because they don't work identically)

  • 1
    You're right, they're more or less parallel solutions to the same problem, of specifying important background information while still allowing discussion on possibilities. The difference seems to be that evidential phenomena mark noun phrases and irrealis phenomena mark verb phrases. It appears from the Wikipedia article that Aikhenvald is trying to merge the two, but the phenomena are quite diverse. A better analogy than Russian/English might be Classifiers, which can inflect verbs, determining the subject/object NPs, or can combine with singular count nouns to determine their semantic class.
    – jlawler
    Oct 4, 2013 at 17:01
  • @jlawler The Wikipedia entry on evidentials only has examples of evidentials attached to verbs. Can you give examples from a language where they attach to nouns/noun phrases?
    – robert
    Oct 4, 2013 at 17:05
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    Sorry, I misunderstood the references. Evidentials are indeed verbal morphology. The key seems to be this paragraph from the Wiki article: "Although some linguists have proposed that evidentiality should be considered separately from epistemic modality, other linguists conflate the two. Because of this conflation, some researchers use the term evidentiality to refer both to the marking of the knowledge source and the commitment to the truth of the knowledge." Epistemic modality is what's involved in irrealis.
    – jlawler
    Oct 4, 2013 at 17:15

1 Answer 1


Irrealis mood is used to talk about events that are not-real (ir-realis), such as:

If I had eaten an apple earlier I wouldn't be hungry now.

The condition (I ate an apple earlier) cannot be fulfilled any more at the time of speaking, or cannot be fulfilled at any time (If the Sun revolved around the Earth...)

Evidentials mark the source of information. English doesn't have grammaticalised evidentiality, but there are lexical expressions such as:

Rumour has it...

I'm told that...

I see that...

The Wikipedia entry on evidentials gives examples from Eastern Pomo, which has suffixes to mark different source of information: -ink’e (nonvisual sensory), -ine (inferential), -le (hearsay), -ya (direct knowledge). This is not the same as irrealis mood. Whether you think your neighbour's house is burning because you felt the heat of the fire (nonvisual sensory), because you saw smoke (inferential), because your other neighbour called and told you (hearsay), or because you set it on fire yourself (direct knowledge) doesn't influence whether you think it's true.

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