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Verbs of perception

Perception verbs such as sjen see and hearre hear form a coherent semantic class. An example of a sentence with a perception verb is given in (1) below. The theme is expressed in the direct object position, and the perceiver is expressed in the subject position:

Edzard heart dat allegear
Edzard hears that all
Edzard hears it all

Transitive perception verbs may participate in a verb frame alternation. They may be detransitivised, more specifically, they may lose their subject argument and be used as evidential copulas, involving an evaluation on the basis of what is perceived, as in the following example:

Dat heart allegear goed
that hears all good
It all sounds good

The role of theme, that which is perceived and evaluated, is expressed in the subject position by the Noun Phrase (NP) dat that. The role of perceiver-evaluator is left unexpressed. The outcome of the evaluation is, usually obligatorily, expressed as an Adjective Phrase (AP). This is the AP goed good in example (2) above.

Five types of perception are distinguished: visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory and gustatory.

Evidential verbs derived from perception verbs are all intransitive: a Noun Phrase (NP) bearing the role of theme occurs in the subject position. This construction looks formally like a medial or middle construction. Middle constructions also involve the realisation of the semantic object in the structural subject position, and they also involve an evaluation. An example of a middle is given below:

Dit boek lêst maklik
this book reads easily
This book reads easily

Perception verbs occurring in a middle construction involve a semantic shift from perception to evidentiality. The perception verb has so acquired copular properties, as is clear from the presence of the evaluative adjective. As a result, these constructions can very well be analysed as copular constructions requiring an evaluative adjective.


More details about verbs of perception can be found by following the corresponding links:

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