Preference organization driving structuration

Evidence from Australian Aboriginal interaction for pragmatically motivated grammaticalization

Joe Blythe*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

17 Citations (Scopus)


Kin-enriched morphosyntax has emerged many times in distantly related Australian languages. An examination of language use in conversation reveals that this emergence can be explained in terms of convergent evolutionary pressures. All Australian Aboriginal societies have classificatory kinship, and all have taboos limiting the use of personal names. A conversational preference for avoiding restricted names (Levinson 2007) and preferences for achieving recognition and being succinct (Sacks & Schegloff 1979, Schegloff 1996) provide selection principles that assist speakers in choosing the most suitable expressions for the given occasions of reference. Because kin-based expressions are not names, but are nevertheless useful for securing recipients' recognition of referents, they are regularly selected when names are unsuitable. Through repeated selection in conversation, the same preferences ultimately drive the diachronic development of kin-based morphosyntax. The Murrinh-Patha case study in this article presents the development of kin-based morphology through reanalysis. It then draws on fragments of face-to-face conversation exemplifying how conversational pressures bias the selection of kin-based structures. Finally, the micro-and macrocausal domains are linked through an 'invisible hand' explanation (Keller 1994).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)883-919
Number of pages37
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2013
Externally publishedYes

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