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  • La modalité épistémique en basque by Gerd Jendraschek
  • Heiko Narrog
La modalité épistémique en basque. By Gerd Jendraschek. (LINCOM studies in Basque linguistics 5.) Munich: LINCOM Europa, 2003. Pp. 100. ISBN 389586854X. $44.

This is a small but ambitious booklet dealing with epistemic modality (EM) from a typological perspective. In seven short chapters it gives an overview of EM in Basque in comparison with French, accompanied by a general linguistic discussion.

Ch. 1, ‘Introduction’ (1–6), states the goals and methods of the study, and Ch. 2, ‘Cadre théorique de la modalité épistémique’ (7–20), gives examples of epistemic (i.e. mainly evidential) markers in a variety of genetically diverse languages and discusses notions commonly associated with EM. Ch. 3, ‘Caractéristiques générales dubasque’ (21–30), is a ten page introduction to the language, including its phonology, morphology, and syntax. Ch. 4, ‘Structures épistémiques en basque’ (41–58), although rather brief as well, should be considered the centerpiece of the study. Here Jendraschek gives an overview of the various lexical and grammatical means of marking EM in Basque. Ch. 5, ‘La modalité épistémique en Français’ (59–72), discusses a number of structures marking EM in French, particularly those that stand in some relation to the structures highlighted in the description of this semantic domain in Basque. Ch. 6, ‘Liens de l’ épistémique avec d’autres domaines dans une approche typologique’ (73–90), mainly deals with the relationship between EM and the categories of tense and aspect. Ch. 7 (91–93) is a short conclusion, after which follow a list of abbreviations and a bibliography, but not an index.

This study presents some interesting facts and makes interesting observations. According to the author, a large number of the structures that signify EM in Basque are not only similar to well-known structures in surrounding Indo-European languages, but probably are borrowings as well. The language, [End Page 530] however, has retained some features that obviously reflect an older stage. One of the most salient is the ‘potential’ suffix -ke, for which a wide meaning range can be reconstructed, including notions and functions such as future, supposition, possibility, and past and present conditional (56). Others are the preverbal particles, for which it is difficult to find direct structural correspondences in the neighboring languages. They have aspectual, modal, and discursive functions. Another point rather crucial for this study is the relative abundance of markers with evidential meanings, particularly if compared with Indo-European languages. This leads to what is perhaps the theoretically most interesting point of the study, namely J’s claim that evidentiality is a subdomain of EM, and that the borderline between evidential EM and nonevidential EM is fluid (7). While this claim is based on the observation of the data in Basque, which has more overt evidential marking, the point is also brought home in J’s discussion of the conditional in Modern French (61–63).

On the critical side, one cannot help but notice a number of inconsistencies in argumentation. For instance, the section on the present state of research (5–6) unexpectedly deals only with evidential modality to the exclusion of other types of EM, with no explanation given. The same happens in Ch. 5, which promises a discussion of EM in French, but starts out discussing only evidentiality. Being clearer on the relationship between EM and evidentiality, and keeping in mind that not all researchers consider them to be the same category, might have sharpened the overall argument. The quality of the printing is poor. Letters of the same word, particularly first letters, are often set apart with inexplicable spaces. The following line from p. 1 gives an example of this: ‘fonctionnelles p lutôt g énérales et é numère, d écrit et a nalyse le c as é chéant l es’.

Heiko Narrog
Tohoku University, Japan


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pp. 530-531
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