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Demonstratives in Dalabon: A language of southwestern Arnhem Land

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Cutfield, S. (2012). Demonstratives in Dalabon: A language of southwestern Arnhem Land. PhD Thesis, Monash University, Melbourne.

This study is a comprehensive description of the nominal demonstratives in Dalabon, a severely endangered Gunwinyguan non-Pama-Nyungan language of southwestern Arnhem Land, northern Australia. Demonstratives are attested in the basic vocabulary of every language, yet remain heretofore underdescribed in Australian languages. Traditional definitions of demonstratives as primarily making spatial reference have recently evolved at a great pace, with close analyses of demonstratives-in-use revealing that their use in spatial reference, in narrative discourse, and in interaction is significantly more complex than previously assumed, and that definitions of demonstrative forms are best developed after consideration of their use across these contexts. The present study reinforces findings of complexity in demonstrative use, and the significance of a multidimensional characterization of demonstrative forms. This study is therefore a contribution to the description of Dalabon, to the analysis of demonstratives in Australian languages, and to the theory and typology of demonstratives cross-linguistically. In this study, I present a multi-dimensional analysis of Dalabon demonstratives, using a variety of theoretical frameworks and research tools including descriptive linguistics, lexical-functional grammar, discourse analysis, gesture studies and pragmatics. Using data from personal narratives, improvised interactions and elicitation sessions to investigate the demonstratives, this study takes into account their morphosyntactic distribution, uses in the speech situation, interactional factors, discourse phenomena, concurrent gesture, and uses in personal narratives. I conclude with a unified account of the intenstional and extensional semantics of each form surveyed. The Dalabon demonstrative paradigm divides into two types, those which are spatially-specific and those which are non-spatial. The spatially-specific demonstratives nunda ‘this (in the here-space)’ and djakih ‘that (in the there-space)’ are shown not to encode the location of the referent per se, rather its relative position to dynamic physical and social elements of the speech situation such as the speaker’s engagement area and here-space. Both forms are also used as spatial adverbs to mean ‘here’ and ‘there’ respectively, while only nunda is also used as a temporal adverb ‘now, today’. The spatially-specific demonstratives are limited to situational use in narratives. The non-spatial demonstratives kanh/kanunh ‘that (identifiable)’ and nunh ‘that (unfamiliar, contrastive)’ are used in both the speech situation and personal narratives to index referents as ‘identifiable’ or ‘unfamiliar’ respectively. Their use in the speech situation can conversationally implicate that the referent is distal. The non-spatial demonstratives display the greatest diversity of use in narratives, each specializing for certain uses, yet their wide distribution across discourse usage types can be described on account of their intensional semantics. The findings of greatest typological interest in this study are that speakers’ choice of demonstrative in the speech situation is influenced by multiple simultaneous deictic parameters (including gesture); that oppositions in the Dalabon demonstrative paradigm are not equal, nor exclusively semantic; that the form nunh ‘that (unfamiliar, contrastive)’ is used to index a referent as somewhat inaccessible or unexpected; that the ‘recognitional’ form kanh/kanunh is instead described as ‘identifiable’; and that speakers use demonstratives to index emotional deixis to a referent, or to their addressee.