Very frequently and spontaneously, in our daily life, we use several forms which express our judgments about a state of affairs or the behaviour of our interlocutors.
People modulate and graduate these expressions depending on the certainty of the conveyed information and the personal state. The exploration of this domain, called the epistemic domain, has received much attention since the eighties within the analysis of the semantics/pragmatics interface.
The widespread use of epistemicity in language has contributed to the development of the interest in this linguistic and cognitive domain, thus expanding this research area. In fact, investigation of epistemic modality is not limited to the analysis of its linguistic expressions: epistemicity encompasses a very interesting and productive field of study concerning human cognition. Consequently, the large interest in the acquisition and understanding of epistemic modality has provided surprising results about the order of acquisition of the different linguistic forms included in this area.
A complete survey of epistemic modality studies would require an accurate investigation of the encoding of epistemic expressions in several languages of the world. In this dissertation, we have focused on English and Italian, trying to highlight the differences and similarities between these two languages, also taking into account the pragmatic aspects involved in the comprehension process.
The first chapter intends to investigate the role of epistemicity in language and its use in linguistic communication; we will focus on the English and Italian linguistic expressions used to indicate the epistemic judgment, such as modal adjectives, verbs and adverbs and the mental state predicates. The second chapter aims to provide an overview of the experimental works based on the comprehension of these expressions and the cognitive correlates, especially children’s understanding of epistemic terms with a significant reference to the Theory of Mind, and adults’ comprehension of epistemic adjectives. The third chapter introduces and develops a new topic: the influence of the speaker’s status in several linguistic tasks on the comprehension of linguistic messages. It can be hypothesized that in a conversation a hearer processes the epistemic value of an utterance by taking into account the status (sex, age, occupation, etc.) of his interlocutor, so that this parameter affects the plausibility of a given situation or of a given judgment.
Finally, we try to draw the conclusions of this dissertation by summing up the main assumptions on epistemic modality and its relationship with language and cognition.