The category of epistemic adverbs has recently received increased attention in both Anglophone and Polish linguistics, but English–Polish contrastive research in this area has so far been rather fragmentary. English and Polish grammars differ considerably in the ways they classify epistemic adverbs. The differences largely result from the different understanding of adverbs as a category, which in English grammar tends to be presented as broad and heterogeneous while in Polish grammar – rather narrow and uniform. Polish equivalents of English epistemic adverbs are classified as particles – a distinct word class with its own characteristic properties. This paper presents an overview of approaches to epistemic adverbs taken in Anglophone and Polish linguistics with the aim of identifying their convergent points and suggesting a framework for a contrastive analysis. In the case of Anglophone research, the focus is largely on discourse studies because epistemic adverbs are usually seen as a discourse category. In Polish linguistics, however, they are analysed within different theoretical frameworks, which is why the discussion will not be limited to one specific methodological school. Reference is also made to more general issues, such as the treatment of adverbs as a category.
Epistemic adverbs, like other markers of epistemic modality, are concerned with the speaker’s assessment of the truth value of the proposition. In other words, they indicate that the speaker considers certain situations as possible, impossible, probable, certain, or uncertain. At the same time, they signal the author’s presence in the text, and invite the reader to make his/her own conclusions and interpretations. The use of modal markers has been demonstrated to differ across academic disciplines, but the specific differences concerning the use of epistemic adverbs have not been studied systematically. This paper investigates the use of epistemic adverbs in research articles representing six disciplines belonging to three different branches of science: the humanities (linguistics and literary studies), the social sciences (law and sociology), and the natural sciences (physics and medicine), with the aim of establishing discipline-specific tendencies in their use. The study is based on a corpus of 160 research articles compiled by the author. It begins with an attempt at delimiting the category of epistemic adverbs in English. After that, a list of the most frequent epistemic adverbs in the subcorpora of all the disciplines is established and discussed. The study demonstrates that frequent use of epistemic adverbs is largely a property of research articles in the humanities and social sciences. Medical and physics research articles use them significantly less often. The most frequent epistemic adverbs in the research articles under analysis include indeed, perhaps, clearly, certainly, of course, arguably, possibly, and reportedly. Some adverbs appear to be associated with specific disciplines, e.g., clearly (physics, linguistics, sociology, medicine), indeed (linguistics, literary studies, sociology), possibly, reportedly (medicine), arguably (law). The association of individual adverbs with specific disciplines may serve as an important clue to the understanding of their functions, in particular in the case of the less frequent ones, such as arguably and reportedly, which remain significantly understudied. The findings may also prove useful in teaching English for academic purposes.