From perception to inference. Evidential, argumentative and textual aspects of perception predicates in Italian
The project examines Italian perception predicates that function as inferential markers. Perception predicates are verbs or verbal constructions whose semantic frame includes an experiencer and a percept as explicit or implicit arguments. This category includes verbs such as vedere, in which the experiencer occupies the subject role in active sentences, but also verbs such as sembrare, in which the percept is the first argument. Perception predicates are not only used to report direct perception (e.g. Sento un rumore 'I hear a noise'), but also to signal that the experiencer has acquired a certain information through inference. In the latter case, perceptual data may be explicitly referred to or be implicitly present as stimuli in a more complex perceptual and interpretive process (e.g. Vedo che è partito 'I see [something that indicates] that he has left' or Sembra stanca ‘she seems/looks tired’); they may also be absent altogether (e.g. Sembra un momento propizio ‘this seems to be a favourable moment’). When the experiencer role is assigned to the speaker in inferential uses, these function as an evidential strategy. This strategy is recurrent in Italian and in other European languages, which lack evidentiality as a grammatical category. In line with existing research on grammaticalization and semantic change, it can be considered broadly as an instance of an unidirectional evolution from sensory to epistemic meanings, in which both categories of meanings may co-exist, resulting in polysemy. The semantic and pragmatic characteristics of this strategy in Italian are not entirely clear, however. Existing research on perception verbs and inference in European languages tends to concentrate on a limited number of highly grammaticalized appearance verbs (e.g. engl. seem, look, it. sembrare, parere etc.); moreover, the specific complexity of inferential markers, which usually imply both premise-conclusion relations and modal judgements of certainty and/or factuality, is not always accounted for; finally, the research dedicated to lexically based evidential strategies in Italian is rather rare. The project aims at a better understanding of the strategy through to a multi-layered synchronic analysis of the semantic and discursive properties ofa wide range of perception predicates.Which inferential meanings do perception predicates have in contemporary Italian and which discourse functions do these fulfill? To capture the specific properties of the perception predicates’ inferential uses, these will be conceptualized as micro-argumentative structures.