Academic journal article Linguistic Discovery

Referential Hierarchies in Three-Participant Constructions in Vera'a

Academic journal article Linguistic Discovery

Referential Hierarchies in Three-Participant Constructions in Vera'a

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

1.1 Database and grammatical description

This study is based on a corpus of the Vera'a language compiled by the author as part of a DoBeS Documentation Project. It draws exclusively on data from a text corpus of mainly narrative, but also some procedural and descriptive, texts. This means that it does without elicitations of all potentially occurring structural variants in terms of argument structure and referentiality / animacy properties in favor of data from more natural text production. As for the latter type of data, firstly they seem to represent more accurately the actual linguistic behavior of speakers, and secondly allow for contextualization and quantification. Especially the former point is highly relevant for the present study.

Some aspects of the structure of Vera'a have been analysed in various works by Alex Francois, for instance Francois (2005, 2007, 2009). The first modern descriptive account of the Vera'a language is presented in Schnell (2011); the basic structural features of the language will be outline in Section 2.

1.2 Basic concepts and outline of paper

This paper seeks to determine how inherent (as opposed to relational semantic role) features of arguments impact on the structure of Vera'a three-participant constructions. The features to be considered here are by and large the ones comprised in feature hierarchies variously labeled as "(extended) animacy", "person", "empathy", "topicality", "Silverstein's", etc. hierarchies in the literature (cf. Siewierska 2004:149; Croft 2004:132). I will use the term referential hierarchies here to refer to the different hierarchies discussed by Siewierska (2004:148ff.), listed in (1):

(1) a. Person Hierarchy:        1st > 2nd > 3rd

    b. Nominal Hierarchy:       pronoun > noun

    c. Animacy Hierarchy:       human > animate >
                                inanimate > abstract

    d. Referential Hierarchy:   definite > indefinite
                                specific > non-specific

    e. Focus Hierarchy:         not in focus > in focus

As for the first three hierarchies in (1a)-(1c), I will not refer to the combination of these labeled "Extended Animacy Hierarchy" by Croft (2003:130), but take these smaller hierarchies as points of reference for relating the Vera'a facts to those observed in other languages. Also, I assume that these hierarchies should not be taken as directly reflecting the grammatical categories of any given language but instead be understood as comparative concepts, in the sense of Haspelmath (2010), to which the categories determined for Vera'a may be related for the purpose of cross-linguistic comparison. The notion of definiteness is understood here as a property of referential expressions that signals the identifiability and activation of discourse participants (cf. Lambrecht 1994:77ff.). The term focus refers to a relational pragmatic category. As a detailed treatment of pragmatic relations is beyond the scope of this paper, I will use the term here to refer to an element of discourse that is in some sense unpredictable and not recoverable for the hearer with respect to the proposition of a given sentence (cf. Lambrecht 1994:207). In this sense, marking something as focal is not to be equated with marking it as new information or as indefinite; identifiable and activated discourse referents may also be focal in certain contexts (Lambrecht 1994:210f.).

In Section 2 I outline the basic features of verbal clauses and argument encoding in Vera'a and referential hierarchy effects in monotransitive clauses. In Section 3 I present the basic types of Vera'a three-participant constructions and their semantic properties. Section 4 investigates prepositional constructions and Section 5 possessive-like constructions. In Section 6 I give a short summary of the main findings.

2. Vera'a Clause Structure

2. …

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