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Entities and the expression of grounding and referential coherence in Northern Pwo Karen narrative discourse Open Access


Other title
Clausal nominalization
Pwo Karen, Karenic, Tibeto-Burman
Participant reference
Foreground and background
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Phillips, Audra E
Supervisor and department
Rice, Sally (Linguistics)
Examining committee member and department
Arppe, Antti (Linguistics)
Jenny, Mathias (Comparative Linguistics)
Tucker, Benjamin V. (Linguistics)
Lachler, Jordan (Linguistics)
Department of Linguistics

Date accepted
Graduation date
2017-06:Spring 2017
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
Northern Pwo Karen (N. Pwo), an under-described, isolating Tibeto-Burman language of northern Thailand, makes extensive use of clausal nominalizations in narrative discourse. Furthermore, the language has preserved a split-ergative system, based on person, in its personal pronouns. In this system, first- and second-person pronouns exhibit a nominative-accusative pattern, while third-person pronouns exhibit an ergative-absolutive pattern. Moreover, all of the third-person pronouns only occur intermittently, or optionally. Given these phenomena, this dissertation first answers the question of how clausal nominalizations are used in N. Pwo narrative discourse. It also answers the question of how nominals are used for reference tracking, especially in third-person contexts. To investigate the function of clausal nominalization and the tracking of participants, a selection of N. Pwo traditional narratives were entered into a spreadsheet and tagged for characteristics related to their function. For clausal nominalization, this included the grounding value, such as foreground vs. background information. For participant tracking, this included the person of the argument, the identification of the most important participant in a stretch of discourse, and the rank of the participant or the participant’s relative importance in the narrative. The resulting data frame was then used to quantify and correlate the occurrence of clausal nominalization and participant reference forms with discourse constructs such as the textual grounding value, in the case of clausal nominalization, and the relative importance of the participant, in the case of participant reference. Clausal nominalizations were found to occur in both narrative and conversation and are used to express background, supportive information that is off the time line, such as setting, possible states of affairs, or explanations. Non-embedded clausal nominalizations also occur in both narrative and conversation. In narrative, they are used to express the prevailing state of affairs and often occur at the end of episodes. In conversation, they are used to express a prevailing state of affairs or the speaker’s desired state of affairs. In third-person contexts, the ergative and third-person accusative pronouns are used to reference the most important participant in a stretch of discourse and typically occur at points of either temporal or participant discontinuity. Conversely, the third-person absolutive pronoun is used to reference either non-human or less important participants when a narrator chooses to emphasize that participant. Otherwise less-important participants are referenced by zero or a noun phrase. Finally, in addition to the account of the function of clausal nominalization and reference-tracking patterns, the dissertation includes an extensive morpho-syntactic overview of N. Pwo basic and nominalization constructions.
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