This work provides a case study centered on the cognitive phenomenon of factualization, viz. “the SP/W’s increasing certainty about the realization of an event or situation” (cf. Tantucci 2014, 2015a, b, 2016b). Factualization corresponds to a cognitive-control mechanism (i.e. Kan et al. 2013) specifically occurring in the epistemic domain. It instantiates both in online language production and throughout the diachronic reanalysis of a construction (i.e. grammaticalization, semasiological change or constructionalization, cf. Traugott and Dasher 2002; Traugott and Trousdale 2013).
The case presented here focuses on the diachronic change of the epistemic construction I suppose in BE (British English). It will be shown that I suppose developed through time an increasingly factual usage out of an original meaning conveying weak epistemicity. Qualitative and quantitative data from the Corpus of Historical American English (COHA,Footnote 1 cf. Davies 2010) will support the general claim that—to varying degrees—epistemic predicates diachronically tend to develop new polysemies encoding a Speaker/writer’s (henceforth SP/W) “subjectified form of certainty” towards a proposition P (cf. Tantucci 2015a: 371). In cognitive psychology, recent studies on perceptual/linguistic cognitive control and ‘conflict monitoring theory’ (cf. Norman and Shallice 1986; Desimone and Duncan 1995; Botvinick et al. 2001; Miller and Cohen 2001; Schlaghecken and Martini 2012), have shown that “experiencing [perceptual or linguistic] ambiguity appears sufficient to yield conflict adaptation” (Kan et al. 2013, p. 647). Accordingly, this study will provide evidence to show that epistemic uncertainty is itself a form of cognitive conflict between two propositions: P is true vs. P is false. In this sense, synchronic and diachronic phenomena of factualization are to be intended as a general embodied impulse to resolve epistemic conflicts in favor either of the former (P is true) or the latter (P is false). This paper will provide diachronic evidence to support confirm that cognitive control mechanisms can be operationally observed to occur in the epistemic domain. It is organized as follows: in “On factuality” section I provide a brief overview about the notion of factuality where a special emphasis is given to Narrog (2002, 2005a, b, 2009, 2012) and Tantucci (2015a) approaches. In “On factualization” section I discuss the notion of fatualization as a form of semasiological subjectification. In “The factualization of I suppose in American English” section the main case-study of this paper is given, as I provide quantitative and qualitative data about the factualization of I suppose from the COHA across the nineteenth and the twentieth century.
Factuality in the literature is alternatively labeled as ‘realis’ (e.g., Mithun 1999; Palmer 2001), ‘factivity’, ‘reality’, ‘actuality’ (e.g., Kiparsky and Kiparsky 1971; Chung and Timberlake 1985; Papafragou 2000), or ‘validity’ (Kiefer 1987; Dietrich 1992). It broadly refers to the pragmatic, semantic or grammatical encoding of a proposition that is communicated as a ‘fact’, or in other words, as an event/situation posited as ‘real’, in opposition to what is unreal, hypothetical or possible.
In Narrog (2002, 2005a, b, 2009, 2012) factuality is counterposed to modality in that he defines the latter as the domain marking the non-factuality or ‘undetermined-factuality’ of an event. With this premise, modally unmarked assertions are generally employed to posit a situation/event as a fact (Narrog 2005b: 187):
mary is at home now.
mary may be at home now.
In Narrog’s account, the main semantic function of the epistemic modal may in (2) is to suspend the factual meaning conveyed in (1). Along a similar line of thought, in Tantucci (2015a) it is pointed out that factuality in language is entailed by SP/W’s marked certainty about the state of affairs of a situation. In this sense, factual statements can be pragmatically paraphrased as As (I am sure that) P is true, P. This is tested in (1a) below, which is logically inconsistent, in comparison with in (2a), which is perfectly acceptable:
(a) *Mary is at home now, (although) I am not sure.
(a) Mary may be at home now, (although) I’m not sure.
(2a) above—is semantically open to challenge as it suspends the factual status of the utterance. Quite differently, the factual assertion (1a) entails SP/W’s subjective certainty about the actualization of the event Mary being at home in the real world. It follows from this that “an assertion is pragmatically and logically factual as long as it is not marked by constructions encoding epistemic uncertainty” (cf. Tantucci 2015a: 374). On the other hand, modally marked propositions are logically consistent with constructions expressing doubtfulness or hesitancy on behalf of SP/W.
The process of factualization can be observed diachronically or during online speech production. It corresponds to the SP/W’s increasing certainty about the realization of an event or situation (cf. Tantucci 2014, 2015a, b, 2016b). Diachronically, factualization occurs in the form of ‘subjectification’ (Traugott 1989, 1995, 2003, 2010, 2012; Traugott and Dasher 2002; Langacker 2008, 2009). The latter notion is generally addressed semasiologically, viz. by focusing on a form–meaning pair L (lexeme or construction) and the changes that the meaning M of L undergo through time (cf. Geeraerts 1997). Simply put, “subjectification is the semasiological process whereby linguistic expressions acquire subjective meaning. In particular, it refers to the tendency whereby lexical material tend[s] to become increasingly based in the SP/W’s subjective belief state or attitude to what is being said and how it is being said. (Traugott 2003: 25; see also 1989: 35, 1995: 47)”.
The literature on subjectification in the last 15 years is extremely vast and diverse. A famous example of epistemic subjectification is first given in Sweetser (1990: 52) who proposes that the epistemic domain is to be understood in terms of a metaphorical mapping from the socio-physical world of obligation (the ‘root’/deontic domain) to the world of reasoning (the epistemic domain):
(a) You must be at home by ten. (Mom said so.) [deontic]
(b) You must have been home last night. [epistemic]
(Sweetser 1990, p. 61)
To explain, must in (3b) above is comparatively more subjectified that it is in (3a) as it encodes SP/W’s personal belief towards a proposition P. As put by Sweetser, in (3a) “the direct force of mom’s authority compels you to come home by ten” (1990, p. 61) with SP/W exerting external control over the AD/H: s/he tries to affect directly the state of affairs of AD/R’s actions. Quite differently, in (3b) must is comparatively more subjectified as SP/W exerts a form of epistemic control over a proposition P. In this latter case, SP/W is making a subjective attempt to find some certainty about a proposition P (see Nuyts 2001; Tantucci 2013, 2016a on the intersections between subjectivity and epistemic modality). Correspondingly, Traugott (1989: 43) argues that some modals in English not only show a diachronic shift from non-epistemic to epistemic, but also from relatively ‘weak’ to ‘strong’ epistemicity.
In line with this idea, Tantucci (2015a) provides a synchronic collostructional study (cf. Stefanowitsch and Gries 2003) about the epistemic polysemy of the BE predicates I think, I believe and I reckon and a diachronic corpus-based survey about the process of factualization of Io penso ‘I think’ in Italian. What emerges from the results of both studies is that epistemic predicates encoding different levels of (un-)certainty all seem to progressively develop new polysemies expressing a subjectified form of certainty. In other words, it shown statistically that epistemic predicates expressing different levels of conjecture or guess diachronically all tend to be increasingly employed in contexts of factuality.
Factualization theory is grounded in Langacker’s ‘epistemic control cycle’ model (cf. Langacker 2008, 2009). The latter essentially provides a constructional taxonomy of different stages of confidence according to which SP/W considers P as a fact. What crucially emerges from the data presented in Tantucci (2015a) is that predicates originally expressing a comparatively weaker form ‘epistemic inclination’ towards the truthfulness of P, show a general diachronic tendency to expressing ‘epistemic result’, viz. a new subjectified form of certainty upon the factuality of P.
Examples (4) and (5) below are representative respectively of an inclinational usage of Io penso ‘I think’ in the time span 1861–1900 and one of epistemic result in the last period 1968–2001 from the diachronic corpus of written Italian (cf. Onelli et al. 2006):
Nel tempo in cui l’ imperatore Enrico soggiogò la Sicilia, era nella Chiesa di Palermo un decano, di nazione, secondo ch’io penso tedesco.
‘At the time when the emperor Enrico subjugated Sicily, in the Church of Palermo there was a dean, his nationality was, I think, German.’
(diaCORIS – Saggistica – Miti, Leggende e superst. del Medio Evo – Graf Arturo 1892)
francamente penso che la democrazia deve ora fare il massimo sforzo revisionistico ed evolutivo (a sinistra)
‘Frankly, I think democracy has now to make a greatest revisionist and evolutionary e ort (to the left)…’
(diaCORIS – Miscellanea – Una scelta di vita – Amendola Giorgio 1976)
In (4) Io penso expresses a positive attitude towards the factuality of P, yet not absolute certainty. This can be easily tested by adding an inclinational mitigator such as anche se non ne sono sicuro ‘although I’m not sure’. Quite differently (5) corresponds to a statement of epistemic-result, expressing a subjectified form of factuality. In fact, the indicative form (conveying factuality) is here employed instead of the expected subjunctive one (the grammatical mood expressing irreality in Italian) after mental state predicates or ‘verba dicendi’. Moreover, different from (4) above, now the addition of an inclinational element like anche se non ne sono sicuro ‘although I’m not sure’ will now lead to logical inconsistency:
(a) Nel tempo in cui l’ imperatore Enrico soggiogò la Sicilia, era nella Chiesa di Palermo un decano, di nazione, secondo ch’ io penso tedesco, anche se non ne sono sicuro.
‘At the time when the emperor Enrico subjugated Sicily, in the Church of Palermo there was a dean, his nationality was, I think, German, although I am not sure.’
(a) *Francamente penso che la democrazia deve ora fare il massimo sforzo revisionistico ed evolutivo (a sinistra), anche se non ne sono sicuro.
‘Honestly, I think democracy now has to make a greatest revisionist and evolutionary e ort (to the left), although I’m not sure.’
Despite the recent findings on diachronic and synchronic cases factualization (i.e. Traugott 1989; Tantucci 2015a, 2016b), me must note that elsewhere it is proposed that epistemic adverbials do show a tendency to acquire a more ‘discourse’ function, which is argued to convey a lesser degree of factuality (cf. Capone 2001). Similarly, Capone also suggests that verbs of knowledge seem to become epistemically weaker (Capone 2000) whereby clitics appear to compensate this trend (Capone 2013). These points might suggest that more cases of factualization phenomena need to be empirically observed before we can draw general conclusions about factualization as a general tendency of change. Important to note is also that clines of change of the so-called ‘weaking kind’ are observed in qualificational shift from epistemicity to evidentiality (cf. Nuyts 2012), viz. ones that are characterized by a shift from evaluational to presentative illocutionary force (cf. Tantucci 2016a). However, it is still under debate wether along a merely epistemic-modal cline of change phenomena of epistemic weakening (or de-factualization) have occurred at all. This work aims at extending the application of factualization theory. It will be emphasized that diachronic factualization constitutes a cognitive phenomenon which can be observed cross-linguistically. To achieve this, the rest of this paper provides a case-study about the diachronic factualization of I suppose across the nineteenth and the twentieth century in American English.