Back to listing

Seminar: New field insights into the Linguistics of Attention and Ontology: Deixis and Dimension in Phola, Manuel David Gonzalez Perez, 24 Feb

Australian National University, Evolution, Nicholas Evans

Seminar: New field insights into the Linguistics of Attention and Ontology: Deixis and Dimension in Phola

Speaker: Manuel David Gonzalez Perez

When: 24 Feb 2020, 3.30pm-5pm

Where: Engma Room (3.165), HC Coombs Building, ANU


This seminar will be kicked off with a brief situational introduction to the Phola language, a South-Eastern Ngwi language (Bradley, 2002; Pelkey, 2011), followed by two main parts:

Part I: Deixis

After decades of space-focused theoretical work, deixis has been recently described as a linguistic device specialised to the management of attention, and thus a crucial toolkit for intercognitive coordination (Evans et al., 2017a). This may involve monitoring attention to “objects and places” as in dedicated Turkish and Jahai demonstratives, but also to “events” as in Abui (Kratochvil, 2011). The present talk, divided in 5 parts, provides an account of Phola deixis, based on fieldwork in Yunnan, China (2018-2020).

Part I provides a formal description of deictic contrasts, morphophonological derivation and semantic categories distinguished. Part II briefly describes the main patterns attested in discourse, which provides sufficient formal grounding to move on in Part III to an analysis of deixis’ role in achieving attentional coordination. This plays out at two main levels: Speech Act Participant contrasts and visibility contrasts. In particular, a close look will be taken at the typologically rare Visual Deictics, a dedicated grammaticalisation of the “directive function” of demonstratives (Hanks, 1999). Part IV elaborates on this by discussing ontological and modality upscoping of deictics, the holy grail of Engagement (Evans et al., 2017b), for the first time discussed for an isolating language. Finally, Part V examines two aspects of deixis-ontology mappings in Phola:

  1. Attention as deictically anchored but ontologically underspecified
  2. Quantity, Quality and Degree grammaticalised as dimensional extent.

Part II: Dimension

Mran-Ngwi languages have dedicated paradigms of Dimensional Extent resulting from systematic grammaticalisation of up to 12 Stative Verbs encoding spatiotemporal and ontological properties such as HEIGHT, DURATION or AMOUNT. The paradigms have sets of tonally and consonantally derived forms, called Extentives (Matisoff, 1973) that are semantically and functionally distinct from the basic Statives aka Positives (Bradley, 1995).

Part I of this talk presents Phola’s six-way dimensional paradigm and discusses its morphophonological properties, arguing for Extentives as a distinct grammatical class, and providing a minimal functional/semantic characterisation thereof. Part II discusses the main syntagmatic combinations of extentives with a double focus on:

  1. Functional specialisation
  2. Typologically rare form-meaning pairings

In Part III, the onomasiology of Extentives is taken up, including a multimodal account of SIZE-WIDTH as a case study into gesturally informed analysis of functional boundaries in diachronically fluid paradigms. This leads on to Part IV, examining unique patterns of semantic bleaching. Thus far unreported in Ngwi, semantic extensions of extentives burden the paradigm with ambiguity, which is however contextually and gesturally resolved. A neat example of the “grammar-gesture nexus” (Harrison, 2018), Phola multimodal extentives beautifully illustrate the competing requirements and affordances of paradigmatically contrasting categorisation, on the one hand, and communicative flexibility, on the other. By way of conclusion, Part V offers preliminary observations on discourse patterns underlying dimensional grammar.


Bradley, D. (1995). Grammaticalisation of extent in Mran-Ni. Linguistics of the Tibeto-Burman Area, 18(1), 1-28.

Bradley, D. (2002). The subgrouping of Tibeto-Burman. In Medieval Tibeto-Burman languages, C Beckwith, & H. Blezer (Eds.), 73–112. International Association for Tibetan Studies Proceedings 9 (2000) and Brill Tibetan Studies Library 2. Leiden: Brill.

Evans, N., Berqvist, H., & San Roque, L. (2017a). The grammar of engagement I: framework and initial exemplification. In Language and Cognition, 10(1), 110-140.

Evans, N., Berqvist, H., & San Roque, L. (2017b). The grammar of engagement II: typology and diachrony. In Language and Cognition, 10(1), 141-170.

Hanks, W. (1999). Indexicality. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology, 9(1), 124–126.

Harrison, S. (2018). The Grammar–Gesture Nexus. In The Impulse to Gesture: Where Language, Minds, and Bodies Intersect (pp. 21-46). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/9781108265065.003

Kratochvil, F. (2011). Discourse-structuring functions of Abui demonstratives. In F. H. Yap, K. Grunow-Hårsta, & J. Wrona (Eds.), Nominalization in Asian languages: diachronic and typological perspectives (pp. 757–788). Amsterdam: Benjamins.

Matisoff, J. A. (1973). The grammar of Lahu. University of California Publications in Linguistics 75. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Pelkey, J. (2011). Dialectology as dialectic: Interpreting Phula variation. Trends in Linguistics: Studies and Monographs, 229. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton.

  • Australian Government
  • The University of Queensland
  • Australian National University
  • The University of Melbourne
  • Western Sydney University