Language and Societies

ANT/LIN 5320 at Wayne State University

A Ghost of a Tale: Discerning Evidentiality Among Ghost Narratives on Reddit

A Ghost of a Tale: Discerning Evidentiality Among Ghost Narratives on Reddit

Justin Mazzola

Human beings have been telling ghost stories for as long as there have been campfires to tell them around. These narratives take root in fiction or in fact depending on how they are told and who they are told by. This paper utilizes the concept of evidentiality, a linguistic system that seeks to show ‘truth telling’ in text, and how it applies to self-proclaimed ghost narratives the author wishes to convey as fact. Blog posts were chosen on’s r/ghosts subreddit and analyzed via discourse analysis based on word count, popularity of the post, word indicators used by the author to convey truth telling as well as other markers such as skepticism, adamant belief and seeking advice. The data collected from these blog posts were used to consider the commonalities between authors and how the speech they use reflects the truth in their narratives. Ghost narratives treading in a scrutinized territory before they are even spoken/written depend on a specific type of communication in order to be conveyed elegantly enough to be believed by the intended audience. Utilizing the concepts founded in evidentiality I was able to link certain aspects of writing styles and means of establishing fact between authors to show how presenting this particular type of ghostly context fits into a specific formula. That formula ultimately translated into specific words and phrases the authors would use to establish their authority on the matter and why what they were saying about their spiritual encounter was the truth. Although this framework only finds its applications in the type of narrative I have analyzed it would be interesting to explore how these formulas find themselves relevant in broader and much longer ghost narratives that are presented as fact.

April 5, 2019 - Posted by | abstract


  1. This paper sounds fascinating. Having heard you talk about it in class has only peaked my interest even more. I love to be able to read it at some point, if you don’t mind sharing?

    Comment by Tabitha Trembley | April 5, 2019 | Reply

    • Id love to share!

      Comment by Justin Mazzola | April 5, 2019 | Reply

  2. I believe there iss ancient credibility to ghost stories. We attempt, as a prescientific society, to explain the universe. Often explanations come in the form of myths. But I think ghost stories are also an attempt to explain the universe as well.

    Comment by Michael T. Vollbach | April 15, 2019 | Reply

  3. Is there a difference between oral ghost stories and internet ghost stories in evidentiality? Does Reddit incorporate the same tactics or does the written platform force writers to engage in a manner distinct from other story mediums? If there are few differences what are the strengths or challenges a writer faces when presenting a story to the internet.

    The paper’s premise seems really interesting and I would love to read it when you finish.

    Comment by Shannon McKeown | April 23, 2019 | Reply

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