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A mirative construction description: observations about an occurrence in Brazilian Portuguese spoken in Belem/Descricao de uma construcao mirativa: observacoes sobre uma ocorrencia no Portugues Brasileiro falado em Belem.


Earlier studies have discussed the related notions of evidentiality and mirativity (CHAFE; NICHOLS, 1986; DENDALE; TAS MOWS KI, 2001). The semantic domain of evidentiality covers the information source of knowledge behind assertions. However, as pointed out by Willett (1988), there is no consensus as to the notional boundaries of evidentiality (DENDALE; TASMOWSKI, 2001); recent studies have stressed that mirativity is an independent conceptual category, albeit related to evidentiality (DeLANCEY, 1997).

According to Dendale and Tasmowski (2001, p. 343), mirativity is "a sub-domain situated between evidentiality (direct source of information) and modality (speaker's attitude: surprise)."

Following Delancey (1997) and Dickinson (2000) states that mirativity may be a universal semantic category, and all languages probably have the means to code an event or state that is unusual with regard to expectations. Yet according to Dickinson (2000), it is possible to find (i) systems that fuse evidentiality, mirativity, and epistemic modality (she gives an example of the "must-have" constructions in English); (ii) systems that fuse evidentiality and mirativity (e.g., Turkish); and (iii) languages that have evidential systems, independent of epistemic modality, and vice versa. Nevertheless, distinguishing mirative and evidential systems is not always easy.

The goal of this paper is to present data from the Brazilian Portuguese dialect spoken in in the city of Belem, state of Para, northern Brazil, which can be interpreted as having mirative overtones.

Languages like Brazilian Portuguese or English (CHAFE, 1986) do not encode evidentiality as an obligatory grammatical category, but such languages can develop devices to indicate mirativity, providing evidence to support the claim that the latter is indeed a distinct universal semantic category, as DeLancey (1997) suggests.

Overview of the Data: Marking New, Unexpected Knowledge

Data from the Brazilian Portuguese dialect spoken in the city of Belem, state of Para, presents a curious grammatical construction with mirative meaning, without any indication that the given information comes from either first or second hand or from hearsay; that is, this construction is not related to evidentiality. In this grammatical construction, free pronouns in subject function (S or A) appear both at the beginning and at the end of the main declarative clauses. Besides this unusual doubling, there is also a rising intonational pattern in this construction, similar to that of some exclamative sentences. The following example comes from a free conversation among teenagers. They were talking about a very shy friend of theirs, who went out to a night club for the first time in his life and danced the whole time, to the astonishment of the speaker, who was narrating what had happened to friends who had not been there:

(1) ele dancou muito na festa ele

he dance-IPP3s much in+DSFA party he

'he danced a lot at the party' lit.

'he danced very much in the party he'

The three following sentences below could allanswer the question: "Where is my father?" In (4), the speaker expresses his own surprise about the fact.

(2) ele saiu

He go.out.IPP3s

'he went out'

(3) ele? Ele saiu

HeTop he go.outIPP3s

'he?, he went out'

(4) ele saiu ele

He go.outIPP3s he

'he went out' lit. 'he went out he'

The context in which I obtained example (4) was the following: An individual wanted to talk to his father by phone, and the father knew he had to wait for his son's call at a certain time; however the father could not wait for it. The person who answered the call uttered the example (4) to inform the father had just left. This information was surprising to the speaker, since the father had been waiting for the call some few minutes ago. The speaker who used (4) was surprised.

Another example involves the first-person singular:

(5) eu fiz o trabalho de

I do.IPP3s DSMA work of quimica eu chemistry I

'I did the chemistry homework' lit. 'I did the chemistry homework I'

The statement above was made in reference to a difficult high-school chemistry exercise. All the students had tried their best to do the exercise and only one of them got it. Example (5) suggests a mirative interpretation. However, whereas DeLancey (1997, p. 38) states that "an inferential marker, lo [the Hare mirative marker] with first person actors requires a context involving inattention or lack of consciousness," the Brazilian Portuguese mirative-like construction intends to stress the new and in fact unexpected information that the speaker did the exercise before everybody else.

The difference between the Hare and Brazilian Portuguese constructions lies in their relationship to the person. In Hare, the mirative marker used with the first person implies "lack of control," whereas in Brazilian Portuguese it implies new and unexpected information.

The common aspect of the examples given above is the similar contexts in which they occur:

(a) new knowledge: all of the examples provide a piece of information that is new to the addressee.

(b) surprise: all of the examples convey the speaker's surprise/admiration concerning this piece of information.

The occurrence of the first-singular and third-singular persons is well attested in the data. Upon direct elicitation, some speakers accept the reduplicated use of other pronouns, such as nos 'we,' voces 'you.PI,' and also the expression a gente (1); but all of them (including myself as a Brazilian Portuguese speaker) report that although it is possible to duplicate both second-person singular and second-person plural pronouns, as well as the first-person plural pronoun, speakers normally would not do so.

One instance that seems to be an exception to this reluctance is the doubled occurrence of the pronominal expression 'a gente,"we) this is undoubtedly due to its third-person singular form, in spite of its first-person plural meaning.

Some assumptions can be made with respect to the semantics of the pronouns that appear duplicated in the data:

(a) according to the verbal structure, the referent of those pronouns may have a semantic feature [+ animate] or [-animate]:

(6) *ele quebrou ele

It break,IPP3s it

'it broke' lit. '*it broke it' (e.g., the vase broke)

(7) *ela caiu da janela ela

It fall.overlPP3s of+DSFA window it

'it fell out of the window' lit. 'it fell out of the window it'

(e.g., the glass fell out of the window)

(8) *ele soprou forte ele

It blow,IPP3s strong it

'it blew strongly' lit.

'it blew strongly it'

(e.g., the wind blew strongly)

Counterpart examples with a [+animate] referent:

(9) ele quebrouele.

He break,IPP3s he

'he broke (it)' lit. 'he broke he'

(e.g. he broke the vase)

(10) ela caiu da janela ela.

She fall.outof+DSFA window she

'she fell out of the window' lit. 'she fell out of the window she'

(11) ele soprou forte ele.

He blow,IPP3s forcefully he

'he blew forcefully' lit.

'he blew forcefully he'

(e.g., the boy blew out the candles forcefully)

However, it seems that this constraint is related to the ambitransitive meaning of such verbs, which demands an agentive subject, since it is possible to have the duplicated pronoun construction with copula verbs. In this case the pronoun can refer to a [-animate] entity. I obtained the following example from a speaker who related an instance "when my sister had lost one of her books in my house. I was looking for this book and I asked her what that book was like, and she replied":

(12) ele e grande de capa mole ele

It belPr3s big of cover soft it

'it is big, with a soft cover' lit.

'it is big, with a soft cover it'

(c) it is not possible to duplicate coordinated pronouns:

(13) *eue ele fomos ao cinema eu

I and he go.lPPIPI to + DSMA movies I e ele and he

'*He and I went to the movies' lit. '*He and I went to the movies he and I'

(14) *ela e ele comeram todo

o pao ela e ele

She and he eat,IPP3PI whole DSMA bread she and he

'*She and he ate all the bread' lit. '*She and he ate all the bread she and he'

(15) *ela e eu dormimos muito tarde ela e eu

She and I sleep.lPPIPI very late she and I

'*She and I slept very late' lit. '*She and I slept very late she and I'

This constraint may be related to the structural complexity of such noun phrases. Similarly, there is no evidence of occurrences of duplicated modified pronouns, such as those in (16):

(16) *eu sozinha nunca teria tido I alone never have.lFPIs have.Part coragem de ir a courage of go.lnf to um boteco sozinha eu ISMA pub alone I

'*I would never have had the courage to go to a pub on my own' lit.

'*I would never have had the courage to go to a pub on my own I'

In this connection, I would like to present briefly another construction used in the same dialect. Observe the following example:

(17) diz queeu fui falar

tellPr3s that I go.llPIs speak

sobre o Brasil

about DSMA Brazil

'I went to speak about Brazil'

The sentence above, as noted by Aikhenvald (2004), conflates an instance of reported speech, marked by the expression "diz que," with a mirative sense, given that the speaker is talking about himself with overtones of surprise/admiration; according to DeLancey (1997), evidentiality and mirativity are closely related notions. In contrast to the duplicated-pronoun constructions, example (16) combines both mirative and evidential aspects. In this case the speaker removes himself to a removed position and does not say directly (with a boasting impication) 'I went to do that';instead, he reports his action as though it was that of someone else.


As DeLancey (1997, p. 47) points out, languages such as Albanian, Georgian, Washo, and Akha have mirative-like constructions. The duplicated personal-pronoun constructions in the Brazilian Portuguese dialect of northern Brazil is simply another one of such constructions.

Natural discourse research offers a valuable approach to languages such as Brazilian Portuguese in which mirativity exists as a covert category. Roughly speaking, evidentiality in Brazilian Portuguese is expressed lexically by (i) verbal expressions employing verbs of hearing or seeing; (ii) adverbial expressions; and (iii) mirativity, which can also be coded in this language in different ways: (a) by the lexicon; (b) by, for instance, exclamativeintonational patterns; and (c) by mirative-like constructions that combine unusual grammatical devices and intonational patterns.

DOI: 10.4025/actascilangcult.v33i2.12195


AIKHENVALD, A. Y. Evidentiality. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

CHAFE, W. Evidentiality in english conversation and academic writing. In: CHAFE, W.; NICHOLS, J. (Ed.). Evidentiality: the linguistic coding of epistemology. Norwood: Ablex Publishing Corporation, 1986. p. 261-272.

CHAFE, W.; NICHOLS, J. Evidentiality: the linguistic coding of epistemology. Norwood: Ablex Publishing Corporation, 1986.

DeLANCEY, S. Mirativity: the grammatical marking of unexpected information. Linguistic Typology, v. 1, n. 1, p. 33-52, 1997.

DENDALE, P.; TASMOWSKI, L. Introduction: evidentiality and related notions. Journal of Pragmatics, v. 33, n. 3, p. 339-348, 2001.

DICKINSON, C. Mirativity in Tsafiki. Studies in Language, v. 24, n. 2, p. 379-421, 2000.

WILLETT, T. A cross-linguistic survey of the grammaticalization of evidentiality. Studies in Language, v. 12, n. 12, p. 51-97, 1988.

Received on January 11, 2011.

Accepted on July 29, 2011.

(1) There is no correspondent form in English to the expression "a gente" which refers to the first-person plural, in coloquial contexts, in Brazilian Portuguese.

Marilia de Nazare Ferreira-Silva

Faculdade de Letras, Instituto de Letras e Comunicacao, Universidade Federal do Para, Av. Augusto Correa, 1, 66075-100, Belem, Para, Brazil. E-mail:
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Author:Ferreira-Silva, Marilia de Nazare
Publication:Acta Scientiarum. Language and Culture (UEM)
Date:Jul 1, 2011
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