Power dynamics and pragma-cultural sources of unsourced evidentiality in Persian

Amin Zaini and Hossein Shokouhi


This paper investigates participants’ reflections on power relations embedded in the cultural-pragmatics of unsourced evidentials in Persian texts. Using Fairclough’s (2013) critical discourse analysis, we adopted Hanks’ (2018) ethnography of referential practices and Foucault’s (1980) power dynamics to analyse 16 Persian texts through follow up interviews and focus group discussions on two opposing pairs of texts – one pair on Iranian national identity versus Persian literature, and another on Iranian politics versus religion. Our analysis revealed that unsourced evidentials appear in Persian predominantly due to censorship and sometimes due to deliberate use by authors (e.g., for winning an argument). Text consumers often overlook unsourced evidentials while reflecting on politico-religious referents, such as inequalities and bigotry. This has roots in Persian literature, religion, and politics of power embedded in the culture, and the participants’ attention to inequalities and discriminations has roots in referential practices in current Iranian discourse.

Publication history
Table of contents

This paper investigates the production of unsourced evidentials in modern Persian texts and their consumption by Iranian readers. Four Iranian international postgraduates at an Australian university read four texts with politico-religious and national themes, and their reactions to the texts in light of the unsourced evidentials and the different referents in them were investigated. At the level of production, we unpack cultural-pragmatic roots of unsourced evidentiality in the Persian language. At the level of consumption, we focus on how text consumers overlook unsourced evidentiality and pay attention to other referents in texts.

Full-text access is restricted to subscribers. Log in to obtain additional credentials. For subscription information see Subscription & Price. Direct PDF access to this article can be purchased through our e-platform.


Aikhenvald, Alexandra Y.
2015 “Evidentials: Their Links with Other Grammatical Categories.” Linguistic Typology 19 (2): 239–278. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Amanat, Abbas
2012 “Introduction: Iranian Identity Boundaries: A Historical Overview.” In Iran Facing Others: Identity Boundaries in a Historical Perspective, ed. by Abbas Amanat, and Farzin Vejdani, 1–33. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Asgharzadeh, Alireza
2007Iran and the Challenge of Diversity: Islamic Fundamentalism, Aryanist, Racism, and Democratic Struggles. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Ball, Stephen J.
2013Foucault, Power and Education. New York: Routledge. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Boroumand, Ladan
2020 “Iranians Turn Away from the Islamic Republic.” Journal of Democracy 31 (1): 169–181. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Chafe, Wallace
1986 “Evidentiality in English Conversation and Academic Writing.” In Evidentiality: The Linguistic Coding of Epistemology, ed. by Wallace Chafe, and Joanna Nichols, 261–272. New Jersey: Ablex Publication Corporation.Google Scholar
Collier, Stephen
2009 “Topologies of Power: Foucault’s Analysis of Political Government Beyond ‘Governmentality’.” Theory, Culture & Society 26 (6): 78–108. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Cornillie, Bert
2004 “The Shift from Lexical to Subjective Readings of Spanish Prometer ‘to Promise’ and Amenazar ‘to Threaten’. A Corpus-Based Account.” Pragmatics 14 (1): 1–30.Google Scholar
Dabashi, Hamid
2019The Shahnameh: The Persian Epic as World Literature. New York: Columbia University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Davari, Shadi, and Mehrdad Naghzguy-Kohan
2017 “The Grammaticalization of Progressive Aspect in Persian.” In The Grammaticalization of Tense, Aspect, Modality, and Evidentiality, ed. by Volker Gast, 163–190. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Dehkordi Ebrahimi, Mojdeh, and Allami Hamid
2012 “Evidentiality in Academic Writing.” Theory and Practice in Language Studies 2 (9): 1895–1904. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Fairclough, Norman
2013Critical Discourse Analysis: The Critical Study of Language (2nd ed.). London: Routledge. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Foucault, Michel
1972The Archaeology of Knowledge. London: Tavistock.Google Scholar
1975Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. New York: Vintage Books.Google Scholar
1978The History of Sexuality: Volume I: An Introduction. New York: Pantheon Books.Google Scholar
1980 “Truth and Power.” In Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972–197, ed. by Colin Gordon, 109–133. New York: Pantheon Books.Google Scholar
1982 “The Subject and Power”. Critical Inquiry 8 (4): 777–795. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
1994a “On the Government of Living.” In Ethics: Subjectivity and Truth, ed. by Paul Rabinow, 81–86. New York: The new Press.Google Scholar
1994b “The Will to Knowledge.” In Ethics: Subjectivity and Truth, ed. by Paul Rabinow, 11–16. New York: The New Press.Google Scholar
2003“Society Must Be Defended”: Lectures at the Collège de France 1975–1976. New York: Picador.Google Scholar
Frankfurt, Harry G.
2005On Bullshit. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Goldman, Lisa
2016 “Silence one Story and Another is Born: Experience of Censorship in Iran and the UK in 2010.” In Global Insights on Theatre Censorship, ed. by Catherine O’Leary, Diego Santos Sanchez, and Michael M. Thompson, 79–92. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
Gu, Xiang
2015 “Evidentiality, Subjectivity and Ideology in the Japanese History Textbook.” Discourse & Society 26 (1): 29–51. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Hanks, William F.
2012 “Evidentiality in Social Interaction.” Pragmatics and Society 3 (2): 169–180. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
2018Language and Communicative Practices. New York: Routledge. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Hirschey Marrese, Olivia
2021 “The Emergent Construction of Feminist Identity in Interaction.” Pragmatics 31 (3): 406–429. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Ifantidou, Elly
2005 “Pragmatics, Cognition and Asymmetrically Acquired Evidentials.” Pragmatics 15 (4): 369–394.Google Scholar
Jahani, Karina
2000 “Expressions of Indirectivity in Spoken Modern Persian.” In Evidentials: Turkic, Iranian and Neighbouring Languages, ed. by Lars Johanson, and Bo Utas, 185–207. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Katouzian, Homa
2010The Persians: Ancient, Medieval, and Modern Iran. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
Lazard, Gilbert
2001 “On the Grammaticalization of Evidentiality.” Journal of Pragmatics 33 (3): 350–367. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Lo, Adrienne
2004 “Evidentiality and Morality in a Korean Heritage Language School.” Pragmatics 14 (2): 235–256.Google Scholar
Marsilli-Vargas, Xochitl
2014 “Listening Genres: The Emergence of Relevance Structures through the Reception of Sound.” Journal of Pragmatics 69: 42–51. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Murray, Sarah E.
2017The Semantics of Evidentials. Oxford: Oxford University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Nishi, Hironori
2018 “An Overview of the Japanese Quotative itta and itte ita.” Pragmatics 28 (1): 93–111.Google Scholar
Pirzadeh, Ali
2016Iran Revisited: Exploring the Historical Roots of Culture, Economics, and Society. Cham: Springer. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Rahimifar, Mansour, Vali Rezai, and Rezvan Motavalian
2017 “A Functional Analysis of Present Perfect in Persian.” Theory and Practice in Language Studies 7 (12): 1337–1349. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Sadighi, Firooz, and Reza Mobashshernia
2012 “A Study of Lexical Evidentials in Modern Persian: Does Genre Matter?Journal of Basic and Applied Scientific Research 2: 8853–8856.Google Scholar
Saldana, Johnny
2016The Coding Manual for Qualitative Researchers (3rd ed.). London: Sage.Google Scholar
Shokouhi, Hossein, Clodagh Norwood, and Sadegh Soltani
2015 “Evidential in Persian Editorials.” Discourse Studies 17 (4): 449–446. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Shokouhi, Hossein, and Mehdi Latifi
2019 “Empowerment and Knowledge Transformation through Critical Reading and Thinking: A Case Study of Iranian University Students.” In Transformation and Empowerment through Education: Reconstructing our Relationship with Education, ed. by Raqib Chowdhury, 58–72. Milton: Routledge.Google Scholar
Shokouhi, Hossein, and Amin Zaini
2022 “Cultural and Politico-Religious Challenges Impacting Critical Reading of Text for Iranian Postgraduates in Australia.” Australian Review of Applied Linguistics 45 (1): 76–97. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Souleimanov, Emil
2011 “The Evolution of Azerbaijani Identity and the Prospects of Secessionism in Iranian Azerbaijan.” Connections 11 (1): 77–84. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Wiederhold, Anna
2015 “Conducting Fieldwork at and Away from Home: Shifting Researcher Positionality with Mobile Interviewing Methods.” Qualitative Researcher 15 (5): 600–615. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Zaini, Amin
2018 “Word Processors as Monarchs: Computer-Generated Feedback Can Exercise Power over and Influence EAL Learners’ Identity Representations.” Computers and Education 120: 112–126. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Zaini, Amin, and Sue Ollerhead
2019 “Reverse Contrastive Rhetoric in Expository Writing: Transfer and Power Relations at Work.” Southern African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies 37 (1): 41–61. CrossrefGoogle Scholar