Home > 8. The Dragons of Grammar > Dragonish: The Truth, Maybe the Truth, and Why are you Asking?

Dragonish: The Truth, Maybe the Truth, and Why are you Asking?



Dragons are a litigious sort. What with the effort to improve inter-species relations and reduce general carnage, our scaled friends have gone overboard on the peaceful resolution of problems. Even the Big Dragon has taken a hand, in his peruke and gown, issuing opinions on everything from the best way to pickle Etruscan salamis to who has the right to land on his meticulously maintained lawns.

As usual, the Dragons of Grammar have gotten themselves involved in the matter. It turns out that Dragonish, both High and Heroic, has something called grammatical Evidentiality, which helps listeners evaluate the truthfulness of statements. The DoGs are trying to refine and perfect the system…


People have always been expected to sort out the truthfulness of what they’re being told, and there are many indirect ways of judging this, e.g., through body language. But some spoken languages require their speakers to indicate what kind of information their statements are based on. Evidentiality enables them to do this.

One kind of evidentiality distinguishes between information that the speaker is certain of and information the speaker cannot absolutely vouch for. For instance, “He has agreed to the plan” as opposed to “As far as I know, he has agreed to the plan.” In languages that specify evidentiality, the information is indicated by inflection.

Languages that indicate evidentiality in this way include Iranian, Turkic, and Uralic language families. (English, as one might have guessed, is not one of these languages.)

The other kind of evidentiality is more precise, reporting the source of information. It makes such distinctions as witness vs. nonwitness; first- vs. second- vs. thirdhand; inferential; and assumed. Languages that use this system include Shipibo and Kayasha.

RT would also like to note that dragons, ever dragonish, indicate epistemic modality in their languages–that is, Dragonish requires its speakers to pass judgement on the truthfulness of what he or she is saying. EM is a recent addition to the languages, added at the behest of the DoGs (who, for the sake of privacy, also added a “Why are you asking?” option to evidentiality in Dragonish.)


All languages include some means of marking evidentiality; in English, phrases (“as far as I can see”) or adverbials (“reportedly”) are used. After all, this grammatical category conveys information on what could be viewed as the essence of language–the reliability of information that is being reported. That English does not give us a direct means of conveying this should wake us up to the ways that our language does let listeners know whether they’re hearing the plain truth or balderdash.


Painting: A Dragon from the Album of Animals, Hua Yan; WikiCmns; Public Domain.

  1. Sharon Sieben
    January 4, 2013 at 9:07 pm

    I enjoy treading the murky depths of your mind, can’t swim…can barely stay afloat. Yet I persevere, wading through, gathering glimmers of wit and wisdom.

    • January 4, 2013 at 9:24 pm

      sharon: the depths of my mind have been feeling a tad murky, what with mid-winter and all that; still, the DoGs give me a reliable weekly topic, even if something like evidentiality seems silly and arcane. How is it that the mind conveys so much information through words? eric

  2. January 4, 2013 at 9:26 pm

    Reblogged this on yasniger and commented:
    Enthralling piece

    • January 5, 2013 at 3:26 am

      YN: thanks for the repost–it’s always appreciated!!! RT

      • January 5, 2013 at 9:10 pm

        I enjoyed reading your work;
        Thanks for sharing it

    • poetjena
      January 5, 2013 at 6:38 pm

      Enthrallingly dragonicious! “Love” this post!

      a fiery thank you!

      • January 6, 2013 at 6:29 am

        PJ: thx for your enthusiasm; and you have a lovely blog! RT

  3. January 4, 2013 at 10:00 pm

    Shouldn’t it be Draconian rather than Dragonish? 😉

    • January 5, 2013 at 3:13 am

      MB: How about Draconianish? Dragosprak? Somethinng will occur to me… RT

  4. poetjena
    January 5, 2013 at 6:38 pm


  5. Rakesh
    January 6, 2013 at 2:16 am

    DoG has been wonderful creatures any way. Re inventing themselves here and what a hilarious way to find the ways.

  1. September 13, 2013 at 5:29 pm

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