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Seminar: The Evolution of preverbal subject-indexing in Western Oceanic, Carlo Dalle Ceste, 21 June

Australian National University, Bethwyn Evans, Evolution

Date: 7 June 2019

Seminar: The Evolution of preverbal subject-indexing in Western Oceanic

Speaker: Carlo Dalle Ceste

When: 21 June 2019, 3.30pm-5pm

Where: Basham Seminar Room, BPB E2.03, Baldessin Building, ANU


Synchronically, subject markers in Oceanic languages are ambiguous in that, in many a language, they can function both as person-agreement markers and anaphoric pronouns (Siewierska 2004: 121–122). Evans (2008: 385) observes that fitting them in any of the typologically-defined categories of person-number markers remains problematic and that they are better analyzed “in terms of their degree of similarity to or difference from the agreement marker or free pronoun ends of the continuum”.

In my oral presentation, I argue that such synchronic ambiguity is (also) the by-product of the processes of change that have reshaped the pronominal systems and the strategies of subjectrealization in the various languages.

In this respect, Western Oceanic is not only representative of the rest of Oceanic, but also displays some unusual situations. Several languages have subject markers identical to free pronouns, reduced versions thereof, or a combination of the two, pointing to a layered history of grammaticalization and reformation of the pronominal paradigms. This state of affairs is particularly common to the languages that have altered the Proto Oceanic VP structure shifting the position of the TAM-marking particles after the subject markers.

In the languages that have retained the old VP structure, subject markers are distinct from free pronouns but almost uniformly point to the grammaticalization of the former TAM-marking particles into the subject markers, resulting in multiple sets of TAM-marked subject markers (Ross 1988: 103; Ross & Lithgow 1989).

In both cases, the state of affairs in the ancestor language (Ross in prep.: 32) is altered insomuch that the explanatory power of the reconstruction is hindered, particularly in setting up chronologically consistent series of diachronic stages.

In my seminar, I offer an overview of the various systems of subject-marking found in Western Oceanic, illustrating the principal processes of change that are observable based on the data available for the present-day languages. In so doing, I draw a number of conclusions aimed at disentangling part of the diachronic jigsaw puzzle.


Evans, Bethwyn. 2008. Subject agreement in Marovo: diachronic explanations of synchronic

conditions. Oceanic Linguistics 47(2). 383-408.

Ross, Malcolm, D. 1988. Proto Oceanic and the Austronesian languages of western

Melanesia. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.

Ross, Malcolm, D. In preparation. Western Oceanic revisited. Draft only.

Ross, Malcolm, D. & Lithgow, David, R. 1989. The prehistory of some Western Oceanic

tense/mood markers: insights from natural morphosyntax. Draft only.

Siewierska, Anna. 2004. Person. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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