Academic journal article Studies in African Linguistics

Symbolic Indexing in Oromo*

Academic journal article Studies in African Linguistics

Symbolic Indexing in Oromo*

Article excerpt

This paper identifies a general phonic pattern of indexing on referential, spatiotemporal, and logical structures in Oromo. Final -n(V) marking across these different grammatical forms correlates with assumed accessibility of referents and of other information in discourse across a range of syntactic and semantic elements. The primary data for this study are from a spontaneous Guji narrative. Previous research on the form of referring expressions and the cognitive status of their referents in other Oromo dialects is extended through the consideration of the nominal constructions in this narrative. Furthermore, by the examination of other constructions, this -n(V) indexical is identified as a general pragmeme that functions to mark expressions for accessible referents and information on a range of forms across a discourse in Oromo.

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Oromo, a Lowland Eastern Cushitic language of the Afro-asiatic phylum, and the majority language of Ethiopia, exhibits sound patterns in speech that reliably index the status of information across the conceptual space of a discourse. Eligible expressions in Oromo that index referents or other information that may be assumed by a speaker to be accessible to the addressee, i.e., activated in consciousness to some degree, are marked -n(V) on the right edge. By exploring the relationship between the structures of referring expressions and other information marking forms, and the status of referents and other information in Oromo discourse, this study identifies a consistent phonic pattern that is used to create a reliable map of the domain of a discourse for the interlocutors. In this study, the forms of subjects and objects and the cognitive status of their referents in a discourse are examined first, and then other indexical expressions are identified and the status of information encoded in them is explored.

Peirce (1974) explicates a theoretical framework in which three cardinal sign types are recognized. An iconic sign bears a physical resemblance to its referent. For example, the onomatopoeic word meow signifies the sound a cat makes and also sounds like the sound a cat makes. An indexical sign establishes an existential relationship with interlocutors and a referent in time and space. For example, pronouns and demonstratives depend on discourse or real world context to successfully refer. A symbolic sign expresses conventionalized meaning, as recognized within a speech community. Burkes (1949) considers the original Peircean notion of index and analyzes indexical symbols that are deictic in the immediate domain. He argues that while each token of a nonindexical symbol, e.g., red, has the same conventional meaning regardless of its spatiotemporal location, an indexical symbol, e.g., now, has a unique value depending upon the spatiotemporal location of each token. Although each token of an indexical symbol has the same conventional meaning as its type, e.g., now means the time at which this now is uttered, each token carries additional information since it stands in a unique existential relationship with the interlocutors. In Oromo, each token of referring, temporal, spatial, or logical expressions that bears -n(V) marking functions to index referents, times, places, or logical relationships that are accessible to the interlocutors within a domain of discourse, while also encoding a conventional meaning.

The primary data for this study are from a near death experience narrative by a Lowland Guji Oromo, who also provides native judgments about interpretations and acceptable, appropriate alternative constructions and felicitous expressions.1 Claims about the status of information indexed by certain expressions are made throughout this paper, and therefore the transcription of the complete narrative is provided in an appendix to allow the reader full consideration of the data within the context of the discourse.2 Although this is a small corpus, a rich sample of expressions emerges that exhibits a characteristic sound pattern that maps accessible information in Oromo discourse. …

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