|Title:||Topic and Discourse Structure in West Greenlandic Agreement Constructions||Add Dissertation|
|Author:||Anna Berge||Update Dissertation|
|Email:||click here to access email|
|Institution:||University of California, Berkeley, Department of Linguistics|
|Linguistic Subfield(s):||Discourse Analysis; Syntax;|
|Abstract:||West Greenlandic is a highly polysynthetic, clause-chaining language, with ergative case marking and both passive and antipassive constructions, and with switch-reference marked on both nouns and verbs. Traditionally, the distribution of antipassive constructions has been explained as depending in some way on discourse features, such as definiteness or givenness: whereas the absolutive object of a transitive construction is associated with definite or given nominals, the demoted object of the antipassive is associated with indefinite or new ones. The appeal of this explanation has been questioned, since clear counterexamples exist. Switch-reference marking has been explained as a device for signaling the coreferentiality or noncoreferentiality of subjects of subordinate and superordinate clauses. This explanation has not been questioned; but counterexamples are regularly cited in the literature, and one switch-reference mechanism, the use of the contemporative and participial verb moods, differs in kind from the others, which involve pronominal inflection.
Both ergativity and switch-reference marking can be seen as devices for keeping track of nominals in connected discourse. Traditionally, nouns tracked by these devices are subjects and objects. In this study, I question the applicability of these syntactic categories on the tracked nouns in connected discourse. I propose, based on a review of oral texts, that the relevant categories are the discourse-level categories 'topic' and 'theme'. I define 'topic' very narrowly as the nominal with prominence in a continuous stretch of discourse and 'theme' as the complex of information associated with processes and actions within a section of text. There are theoretical implications to including discourse roles in syntactic dscriptions and discourse as a level of grammatical structure. Syntactic (and semantic) roles are assigned on the basis of the relationship between noun phrases and verb phrases within the clause. I argue for the operational relevance of discourse roles, assigned on the basis of the relationship noun phrases in a text bear with respect to the text as a whole. I show that in West Greenlandic, ergativity and switch-reference serve to show agreement with the same entity, namely the topic of a text. The absolutive case indicates 'topic', which explains the intuitive appeal of explanations based on definiteness, while coreferential marking indicates topic continuity. I also show that the choice of contemporative or participial verb moods has more to do with thematic continuity than switch-reference. Case-marking, coindexing of the subject and object on the verb, pronominal inflection and lack thereof on the verb, and environments traditionally associated with exceptional coreference are all discussed and explained with reference to discourse role theory.