Prosodic person reference in Murriny Patha reported interaction

Joe Blythe*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


This chapter deals with the pragmatic role of prosody in deixis. For recipients of conversational narratives, referential tracking is particularly challenging when the storyteller reports dialogue from prior conversations. When Murriny Patha storytellers need to avoid the name of an individual participating in the prior discourse, prosodic reference assists story recipients keep track of who had been speaking to whom. Murriny Patha is a polysynthetic language from the Northern Territory of Australia, spoken predominantly in the Aboriginal community of Wadeye. The language is unusual for having grammaticalized the ''sibling'' category of its kinship system. As such, Murriny Patha verbs make a three-way opposition between groups of siblings (gender unspecified), groups of all male non-siblings, and groups of nonsiblings that include at least one female. In Wadeye, every Aboriginal person can be related to every other by means of real or classificatory kinship links. Murriny Patha speakers observe many taboos on pronouncing the personal names of certain individuals. Kinterms and the kin-based verbal morphosyntax provide conversationalists with referential resources for referring to persons whose names should be avoided. For reporting prior interaction, prosody provides further resources. Passages of a storyteller's talk that are ''globally'' marked with distinctive prosody are interpreted by story recipients as hailing from a ''storyworld'' of prior discourse. Stark changes in the bundling of global prosodic features are usually (though not always) interpreted as signalling prior speaker change. In a different fashion, pairs of referential items may be ''locally'' marked either similarly, or dissimilarly, in order to mark coreference, or non-coreference, respectively. Both global and local prosodic reference assists the teller in providing a referentially coherent storytelling, while maintaining the appropriate restrictions on naming certain individuals within the story.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationWhere prosody meets pragmatics
EditorsDagmar Barth-Weingarten, Nicole Dehé, Anne Wichmann
Place of PublicationBingley
Number of pages30
ISBN (Electronic)9789004253223
ISBN (Print)9781849506311
Publication statusPublished - 21 Dec 2009
Externally publishedYes

Publication series

NameStudies in Pragmatics
ISSN (Print)1750-368X


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