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Seminar: Joseph Brooks, 15 June

Australian National University

Date: 25 May 2016

Seminar: Switch-reference or event-linkage? Chini clause-chaining constructions in narrative and conversation
Speaker: Joseph Brooks, UC Santa Barbara
Date: 15th June
Time: 3.30-5pm
Venue: Engma Room (5019), HC Coombs Building, ANU

Ever since Jacobsen (1961) identified switch-reference constructions in North American languages, the prevailing view among linguists of diverse theoretical backgrounds has been that switch-reference systems are based on the category of subject (Haiman & Munro 1983). The canonical approach presupposes that switch-reference constructions are organized with respect to their referential tracking function, where subject continuity and discontinuity across clause boundaries are marked. In her paper on switch-reference marking in Central Pomo, Mithun (1993) shows that supposed exceptions to canonical marking pose a fundamental problem for traditional analyses of switch-reference. She points out that "formal similarities between the Central Pomo markers and their equivalents in other languages suggest that... systems previously identified as switch-reference may in fact be clause-combining devices" (119). This challenge forms the basis for the present study.

In Papuan languages with clause chaining, switch-reference systems have largely been analyzed according to the canonical approach, where the referential tracking function of the markers is thought to link the dependent medial clauses in the chain until the independent final verb in the chain. Here I investigate apparent switch-reference constructions and their broader clause chaining structures in Chini, a Ramu language of Papua New Guinea. I rely on six hours of transcribed narrative and conversational data collected during seven months of fieldwork, in order to show that a careful look at these constructions reveals a system based not on automatic and purely syntactic principles of switch-reference as it may first appear, but on event-linkage, where the clause-chain linkers in question are best understood as discourse devices used by speakers to package events according to their communicative goals.


Haiman, John and Pamela Munro (eds). 1983. Switch Reference and Universal Grammar: Proceedings of a Symposium on Switch Reference and Universal Grammar, John Benjamins, Amsterdam/Philadelphia. pp. 49-69.

Jacobsen, William, Jr. 1961. Switch-reference: a Hokan-Coahiltecan syntactic device. Paper presented at the Thirty-sixth Annual Meeting of the Linguistic Society of America.

Mithun, Marianne. 1993. 'Switch reference': Clause linking in Central Pomo. International Journal of American Linguistics 59. pp. 119-137.

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