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date: 09 July 2020

Summary and Keywords

Broadly defined, mirativity is the linguistic term often used to describe utterances that speakers use to express their surprise at some unexpected state, event, or activity they experience. As an illustration, imagine the following scenario: rain is an infrequent occurrence in the Arizona desert, and the news forecast predicts another typically long stretch of sunny weather. Wanda and her colleague are planning a hike in the mountains that afternoon. Aware of this prediction, and being familiar with the typical desert climate, they step outside into the pouring rain. This elicits the surprise of Wanda: based on the weather forecast and coupled with her background knowledge, the rain is an unexpected event. As such, Wanda has a number of linguistic options for expressing her surprise to her colleague; for example,

Wow, it’s raining!It’s raining!No way, it’s raining?(!)I can’t believe it’s raining(!)I see it’s raining(!)It looks like it’s raining(!)Look at all this rain(!)

These utterances provide a sample of the diverse lexical and grammatical strategies a speaker of English can deploy in order to express surprise at an unexpected event, including expressive particles such as wow and no way, surprised intonational contours (orthographically represented by the exclamation mark ‘!’), rhetorical questions, expressions of disbelief, and evidential verbs such as look and see. When we look across the world’s languages we find that there is considerable intra- and cross-linguistic diversity in how mirative meanings are linguistically expressed. The examples above show how English lacks specific morphology dedicated to mirativity; however, the focus of this article is on the role morphology plays in the expression of mirative meanings.

Keywords: evidentiality, surprise, psychology of language, deixis, implicature, illocutionary force

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