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ANU-CoEDL ZOOM Seminar: They whatevered the what's-that, Christian Doehler, 30 Oct

Australian National University, Outreach

Date: 26 October 2020

Seminar:They whatevered the what's-that: Placeholders, recognitionals and light verbs in two languages of New Guinea

Speaker: Christian Doehler

When: 30 Oct 2020, 6pm (AEDT)

Where: via zoom (please email for zoom link invitation)


In Papua New Guinea, one often overhears phrases such as what's that in people's English or wanem ia in their Tok Pisin. In people’s speech these expressions are often filled in after a short lapse. Hence, they function like placeholders or markers of hesitation. However, in many instances there is no repair and these elements function like English whatchamacallit with no apparent hindrance of communication. Such expressions expressions have been analysed in terms of recognitional deixis (Enfield 2003), whereby the speaker assumes that her interlocutor will understand what she is referring to. 

Vacuous expressions of this kind have been reported in languages across the island of New Guinea ranging from the Sepik region in the north – as in Manambu (Aikhenvald 2008) and Awiakay (Hoenigman 2015) – to the Trans-Fly region in the south – as in Komnzo (Döhler 2018). In the paper, I will present corpus data from two languages of Southern New Guinea, namely Bine (Eastern Trans-Fly) and Komnzo (Yam). The paper discusses the syntactic status of the elements in question, their pragmatic function as well as their distribution in a text corpus. I hope to raise some interesting questions in the gray zone between placeholders and recognitionals.


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