Cas Bomans
University of Amsterdam

On the development of blijken and ‘turn out’: how did these verbs become linguistic markers of surprise?

In my research I will argue that the Dutch verb blijken (contra Vliegen, 2011), is a marker of mirativity, i.e. a linguistic expression of surprise or the fact that the conveyed information is new either to the speaker or the addressee (Hengeveld & Olbertz, 2012), just as its English counterpart ‘turn out’ (Serrano-Losada, 2017). If we compare the following two sentences, we see that both ‘turn out’ and blijken show a certain degree of unexpectedness when it comes to the proposition.

  1. It turns out that elephants have an advanced sense of self (Serrano-Losada, 2017)
  2. Het blijkt dat die toch opmerkelijk veilig zijn.

‘It turns out that these are remarkably safe’ (

Especially in the Dutch example we see that the proposition ‘These are safe’ is not expected by the speaker; the speaker uses opmerkelijk (remarkably) and toch (a particle that expresses counter expectation in Dutch) to emphasize that this piece of information is somehow unexpected.

I will give a historical account on the emergence of the mirative use of blijken and ‘turn out’. Although they started out as two seemingly different main verbs (the verb blijken used to mean ‘to light up, to glitter’, where ‘turn out’ used to mean ‘to go away, to depart’), the historical development of the two verbs seems to be similar: both verbs got their mirative meaning through the process of subjectification, i.e. the diachronical process whereby verbs increasingly start to express the speaker’s attitude toward a claim (cf. De Haan, 2007).

I will also argue why it was that the focus of these two verbs has shifted toward the marking of surprise: because they both were resultative (change-of-state) verbs without any other similarities, I will maintain that this resultativity is the deciding factor for becoming a marker of surprise. This is a phenomenon that is also observed in other unrelated languages, where resultative constructions develop mirative overtones over time (Hengeveld & Olbertz, 2012).


De Haan, F. (2007). Raising as grammaticalization: the case of Germanic SEEM-verbs. Rivista di Linguistica19(1), 129-150.

Delancey, S. (1997). Mirativity: The grammatical marking of unexpected information. Linguistic Typology, 1(1), 33-52.

Hengeveld, K., & Olbertz, H. (2012). Didn’t you know? Mirativity does exist! Linguistic Typology, 16(3), 487-503.

Serrano-Losada, M. (2017). On English turn out and Spanish resultar mirative constructions a case of ongoing grammaticalization? Journal of Historical Linguistics, 7(1-2), 160-189.

Vliegen, Maurice. (2011). Evidentiality. Dutch seem and appear verbs: Blijken, lijken, schijnen. Linguistics in the Netherlands, 28(1), 125-137.

Site used for example

Vertaling van “het blijkt dat” in Engels. (n.d.). Retrieved May 20, 2019, from