Social Interaction, Social Context, and Language: Essays in Honor of Susan Ervin-Tripp

By Dan Isaac Slobin; Julie Gerhardt et al. | Go to book overview

11
USE AND ACQUISITION OF GENITIVE CONSTRUCTIONS IN SAMOAN

Alessandro Duranti Elinor Ochs1 University of California, Los Angeles


INTRODUCTION

The analysis presented here considers ways in which adult and child speakers of Samoan use genitive constructions in their social interactions to encode a variety of semantic roles. We will consider in particular displayed preferences for encoding would-be agents as genitive constituents. In other research, we have noted that while Samoan speakers can express agency through ergative-marked noun phrases, these constructions are used infrequently in spoken discourse ( Duranti, 1981, 1994; Duranti & Ochs, 1990; Ochs, 1982, 1988). Generally, ergative constructions are used to mark responsibility, either to praise or to blame ( Duranti, 1990). In the present discussion, we indicate how genitive constructions are useful alternatives to either expressing agency explicitly (through ergative casemarked NPs) or not at all (leaving the interlocutor to infer the agent from background knowledge or other means.)

How perceived scenes and perspectives are mapped onto grammar has been a central concern within psycholinguistics. Developmental psycholinguists have been particularly interested in children's understanding and linguistic articulation of transitive scenes -- what Slobin ( 1985) calls "manipulative activity scenes" -- in which an agent performing some action affects some object. The concern of the present study is to extend our understanding of manipulative activity scenes and grammar beyond the articulation of major sentential constituents, more specifically to attend to ways in which children and

____________________
1
In 1972, one of the authors, Elinor Ochs, then a graduate student writing a dissertation on Malagasy oratory and a mother of 2-year-old twins, wrote to Professor Susan Ervin-Tripp about the enterprise of documenting the conversational competence of very young children. Ervin-Tripp had participated in crafting an interdisciplinary framework to interface anthropology and developmental psychology and pioneered research on the developing sociolinguistic skills of children in the first few years of their lives. Fortunately for Ochs, Ervin-Tripp wrote back, providing the initial scaffolding of what has become a lifetime professional focus on ways in which the language of children and other novices is constitutive of their membership in particular communities.

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