Stockholm university logo, link to start page

Higher seminar: The Linguistics of Knowledge Ascription

Thursday 18 March 2021 15.00 – 17.00


Welcome to a higher seminar in Linguistics with Anna Sjöberg, PhD student.

Anna Sjöberg is a PhD student in language typology and linguistic diversity at the Department of Linguistics. This is the half time seminar for her thesis project.


This event will be held in Zoom. A link will be sent out via the departments mailing list for seminars. It can also be obtained directly from Richard Kowalik:


It has been argued that all languages have a lexical expression for the concept know (Goddard & Wierzbicka 2013). However, there is variation in what is included in lexical expressions of knowledge. In English, we know that something is the case, know a person and know how to do something. In Swedish, on the other hand, we find a lexeme (känna) for knowing a person and in Russian for knowing how to do something (umet’), in both languages distinct from the lexeme for knowing that something is the case (Swedish veta and Russian znat’).

In my thesis project, I investigate ways of carving up the semantic space of knowing cross-linguistically. Using literature ranging from philosophy to psychology to linguistics, I identify potential dimensions of variation within the domain of knowledge. A sample of New Testament verses representing variation along these dimensions is investigated for approximately 80 languages in a world-wide variety sample. What distinctions in the domain are commonly encoded in languages? Are there limits to the ways in which languages carve up “knowledge”? And what does the varying linguistic encodings of the domain tell us about human minds and cultures?

In this talk, which is the half time seminar for my thesis project, I present some preliminary results, focusing on three dimensions of variation: not knowing, personal knowledge and intersubjectivity, describing how these dimensions are encoded in the languages investigated so far.


Goddard, C., & Wierzbicka, A. 2013. Words and Meanings: Lexical Semantics Across Domains, Languages, and Cultures. Oxford University Press.