I am interested in knowing how many different kinds of epistemic mood are known across languages.

In modal logic, you can make a modal operator for any predicate you like, for example, “knowability”, “scrutability”, “understandibility” (see Fitch’s paradox).

I am interested in languages that allow efficient, built-in expression of particular epistemic modes, as they deliver information. I know Turkish has an evidential verb form, which corresponds to “apparently”. It can be used for second-hand information, amongst other things.

But there are far more subtle and peculiar epistemic attitudes one could have towards the propositional content of a declarative sentence they are saying.

I am interested in being able to distinguish between categories which exist because of reification, and categories which are seen as inherent, absolute, or objective (if that is possible, coherent, or meaningful).

For example, if in a society, people were classified as one of two shapes at birth - triangle or square - we can imagine these categories getting reified. Someone might say, “I am a triangle person.”

When someone makes that utterance, they arguably contribute to that concept’s reification, because that type of sentence conveys some kind of absolute propositional content and truth. It is of identical form and effect to a statement, “There is a bird in the sky.” Both are seen as equally true, and real.

I don’t know if there is a valid way to discriminate between the two categories of utterance, philosophically. It may require analysis as to what the difference is.

For example:

  • categories that exist in the physical and objective world (color, texture, size, weight, shape), versus categories that exist purely in the mind (one’s religion, name, being part of a social club or group, etc.) For example, a language that distinguishes between noumena and phenomena, in the Kantian sense.
  • Statements which are observational versus statements that are assertive. One could say, “Triangle people are ugly”, to mean, “I have seen a lot of triangle people that are ugly,” or, “It is asserted by other people that triangle people are ugly, and this is the prevailing definition that I’ve been exposed to”.
  • Committed to presuppositions versus not: when you say anything about triangle people, you are able to distinguish between saying something that cannot be evaluated as true or false, versus something that can, because the former does not attempt to describe a state of affairs in the world, but takes places in an imaginative realm where anything that is said automatically becomes real, whereas the latter must be evaluated in objective categories, as it is known that triangle people are not an objective category.

The idea is to try to find a clearer way to talk about social categories, since I am dealing with the philosophical problem of how it does not seem correct to fully affirm nor deny their existence, but to understand a particular way in which they exist.

  • A modal is an expression (like ‘necessarily’ or ‘possibly’) that is used to qualify the truth of a judgement. Modal logic is, strictly speaking, the study of the deductive behavior of the expressions ‘it is necessary that’ and ‘it is possible that’. So, basically, any natural language. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modal_operator Not sure this is linguistics. Not sure "cross-linguistic" is the right term to describe this. I'd say: existing in natural languages.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jan 19 at 15:37

1 Answer 1


Human languages aren't straightforward implementations of Mathematical Logic. In fact, it is often very painful to express Mathematical Logic using a human language, special terminology is needed to do that. The same holds for philosophy: Philosophers often need to develop specialised terminology for their theories.

Having said this, there is a lot of research on tense, aspect, and mood (TAM) all across the languages of the world and the Wikipedia articles on Tense~Aspect–Mood and on Grammatical mood give some starting point here.

Categories that are called "reified" in the question can be implemented as noun classes in natural languages, Grammatical gender is just an example of a system of noun classes. Many languages of the world go without any noun classes or grammatical gender at all, other languages (specially those of the Bantu family of languages) have more than a dozen of them.

This is just a sketch on what natural languages can do and what they do not provide, beware of deep rabbit holes here.

  • Whatever the research is, it is not "cross-linguistic".
    – Lambie
    Commented Jan 20 at 19:45
  • @Lambie Define "cross-linguistic" here ... I don't use that term in my answer but refer to the languages of the world which is maybe what the OP wanted to ask for. Commented Jan 21 at 20:19
  • You often do not point out the invalidity of OP's questions or how they are posed. The use of cross-linguistic is a case in point. How many languages do you need to know or to look up to answer this: how many different kinds of epistemic mood are known across languages. It's a non-viable question.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jan 21 at 20:21
  • In fact, typologists collect information about different grammatical moods across the languages and there are high-level overviews about TAM as well. And to answer how many, yes in principle you need grammars of all languages of the world. In practice, taking a sample gives already a lot of information, and one can make an extrapolation on the total number based on such a sample. Commented Jan 21 at 20:33
  • All these questions re all the languages "of the world" that do x seem highly problematical to me. It's sounds like a fool's errand.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jan 21 at 20:54

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