Narrative Storyline Marking In Safaliba: Determining The Meaning And Discourse Function Of A Typologically-suspect Pronoun Set
Schaefer, Paul Alan
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This study examines the meaning and discourse functions of a typologically unusual set of pronouns (the "N-pronoun" set) in Safaliba, a little-studied Gur language of western Ghana. The phonological structure of the N-pronouns suggests derivation from the regular pronoun form joined to a subject focus marker, rendering suspect the hypothesis that the N-pronoun exists as an independent form. In isolated sentences, substitution of N-pronouns for those of the regular set produces no immediately obvious difference in meaning, suggesting a discourse or pragmatic function.Three main areas of investigation are pursued: the grammatical contexts where the N-pronouns can and cannot occur; the function and distribution of the hypothetically-related marked focus constructions; and the narrative discourse conventions of Safaliba, particularly the participant reference patterns. The main data source for the research consists of an electronic corpus of approximately 20,000 words comprising 39 narrative texts in Safaliba, supplemented with elicited words and sentences.Grammatical background is presented first, illustrating those aspects of phonology and syntax which have a bearing on the research questions, as well as documenting these areas of the language for future reference. Marked focus constructions are presented next, analyzed following Dik (1997a); these are compared with the usage and distribution of the N-pronoun set, in both elicited and corpus-based examples. Finally, the narrative structure and participant reference patterns are analyzed following Longacre (1995, 1996) and are discovered to be the key to understanding the core meaning and discourse functions of the N-pronoun in narrative text.A unique appropriateness to the narrative storyline, possibly because of higher agentive status, is proposed as the main difference between the N-pronoun set and the regular pronoun set, so that the primary function of the N-pronoun is to distinguish storyline from background information. The pragmatic category of focus is shown to be unrelated synchronically to the meaning or functions of the N-pronoun. This study illustrates the flexibility and advantages of a corpus-based approach to language research. It also shows that the effects of text structure on sentence form can be an unconsidered variable in the study of pragmatic functions in naturally-occurring text data.