Published on October 10, 2007
Verbs Gone Wild!: Verbs Gone Wild! The Distribution of Main and Subordinate Clause Verb Forms in Potawatomi Narrative Laura Buszard-Welcher Wayne State University / EMELD About Potawatomi: About Potawatomi A Central Algonquian language indigenous to Michigan. At the point of its widest geographic spread in historical times, there were about 5000 speakers. Today there are less than 50 elderly speakers living in Michigan and various Reservations around the Midwest and adjacent Canada. Like other Algonquian languages, it is known for having complex verbal morphology, pragmatically determined word order, an inverse system in transitive verbs, and obviation in both discourse and syntax. Data: Data Narrative discourse The majority come from a set of about 50 texts transcribed by Charles Hockett in the 1940’s in Kansas. I am in the process of translating these. Others are modern texts that were told to me by fluent elders. Everyday non-narrative discourse Hockett did not document conversational discourse. Elicitation sessions from my fieldwork. Other examples come from books of conversations developed by a native speaker. The grammar of these two discourse types turns out to be quite different. Independent and Conjunct Verb Paradigms: Independent and Conjunct Verb Paradigms A Descriptive Problem: A Descriptive Problem The distribution of these two verbal paradigms differs across discourse types In everyday conversational discourse, the behavior of independent and conjunct verbs is predictable: independents are used in main clauses, conjuncts are used in subordinate clauses. Narrative--Verbs gone wild! The majority main clause verbs and subordinate clause verbs are in the conjunct. The conversation of characters patterns like everyday discourse. There are a variety of other contexts that pattern like everyday discourse. The Challenge: The Challenge These distributions pose a theoretical challenge for an autonomous module of syntax: Any syntactic statement of the distribution must be dependent on discourse context. From a synchronic standpoint, syntax must therefore ‘see’ discourse. If you explain only one distribution, you are only telling half the story. The descriptive challenge: Assuming the distribution is principled in narrative, can we describe the distribution? (yes) If so can we give a plausible explanation for the distribution? (yes) Conversational Discourse: Conversational Discourse Definition of conversational discourse: Everyday discourse outside of formal narrative Short narratives do occur in conversational discourse, these remain in the conversational pattern: A: ‘What happened to you?’ B: ‘I was picking berries over there, but I met a bear! I dropped my pail, and he ran, and then I took off too! I don’t know who was more scared!’ Pattern of verbal paradigms: Main clauses take INDEPENDENT verbs Subordinate clauses take CONJUNCT verbs Independents in Main Clauses: Independents in Main Clauses Abraham Lincoln ode yawe. this is.3I Peter Baumgras, ndenwémagen, my.relative gi-wzheton ode mzenbyé’gen. PST-made.it.3I this picture ‘This is Abraham Lincoln. Peter Baumgras, my relative, created this picture.’ (my example, in honor of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday) Conjunct Verbs in Subordinate Clauses: Conjunct Verbs in Subordinate Clauses *Note prefix é- ‘factive’ The Factive Prefix é-: The Factive Prefix é- The Conversational Construction: The Conversational Construction The basic pattern found in everyday, conversational discourse Independent verbs are used in main clauses Conjunct verbs are used in subordinate clauses The prefix é- marks factivity of a subordinate clause Conjunct verbs in Narrative: Conjunct verbs in Narrative The Narrative Construction: The Narrative Construction The basic pattern found in narrative discourse Conjunct verbs are used in main clauses Conjunct verbs are used in subordinate clauses The prefix é- Is regularly used on the main clause conjunct (appears to be a kind of evidential marking the ‘factive’ status of traditional narrative). Marks factivity of a subordinate clause Pattern Comparison: Pattern Comparison Conversation in Narrative: Conversation in Narrative Grounding: Grounding Grounding Foreground: the main events of a narrative Background: supportive information; explanations, evaluations, descriptive commentary Background (Grimes, 1975) Settings: information about the time, place, location, and circumstances of a narrative Explanations: “comments about what happens” Evaluations: speaker’s reaction to events in the narrative, or narrative as a whole Patterns and grounding The Narrative Construction is used for foreground The Conversational Construction is used for background Settings: Settings Explanations: Explanations Evaluations: Evaluations Other uses of the CC in Narrative: Other uses of the CC in Narrative Vividness Where the narrative seems to come from a particular character’s point of view Epistemic distance Where the narrator represents the thoughts, or beliefs of a character as being different, or distant from our own Semantic opposition Where two situations are juxtaposed and contrasted Vividness: Vividness Quote Frames: Quote Frames Epistemic Distance in Quote Frames: Epistemic Distance in Quote Frames Another Case of Epistemic Distancing: Another Case of Epistemic Distancing Yet another case…: Yet another case… Epistemic Distance Between Characters: Epistemic Distance Between Characters Use of the CC for Semantic Opposition: Use of the CC for Semantic Opposition Another example of Semantic Opposition: Another example of Semantic Opposition Array of Pattern Uses in Narrative: Array of Pattern Uses in Narrative Possible Diachronic Development of CC Uses: Possible Diachronic Development of CC Uses Grammaticalization of Grounding: Grammaticalization of Grounding A contrast develops between the grammar of narrative and non-narrative discourse Narrative is more conservative, retains main clause conjuncts (except in reported speech) Main clause conjuncts (NC) come to be representative of narrative discourse Narrative foreground taken (by metonymy) to be representative of narrative discourse Main clause independents (CC) taken for contrastive use in narrative to represent narrative background. Summary and Conclusions: Summary and Conclusions I have presented an analysis of the distribution of independents and conjuncts in everyday and narrative discourse I have argued for two diachronic paths of development A grounding contrast: the NC represents narrative foreground, and the CC represents background. Reported speech and related extensions use the CC. The moral (my evaluation): By looking at grammar in one type of context alone (sentences in isolation, or only narrative) we risk missing a bigger picture--the complex and elaborate use of constructions, and relationships between those uses We would be telling only part of the story, and our verbs would be tame--not wild. Outline of a Synchronic Analysis: Outline of a Synchronic Analysis Constructions are form-meaning pairings Like lexical items they can exhibit polysemy There is no strong boundary between a modular syntax and discourse--they occupy a cline The distribution of independents and conjuncts are an illustration of constructional polysemy--a network of semantically related uses. I argue for these networks based on the cognitive theory of Mental Spaces--what independents and conjuncts signal about the Mental Space structure.