Towards an interactional grammar of interjections: expressing compassion in four Australian languages

Ilana Mushin*, Joe Blythe, Josua Dahmen, Caroline De Dear, Rod Gardner, Francesco Possemato, Lesley Stirling

*Corresponding author for this work

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Words classified as ‘interjections’ tend to be treated in descriptive grammars as outside of morphosyntax, too contextually bound to warrant a systematic description of their syntagmatic relations. In this paper we argue that if one takes grammar to include recurrent patterns in conversational turns that are routinely connected with particular interactional functions, such as assessments and acknowledgements, then the grammar of interjections can indeed be incorporated into language description in ways that show the systematic relationships between form and function. We use a comparative corpus of conversations in four typologically distinct Australian Aboriginal languages (Garrwa, Gija, Jaru and Murrinhpatha) to illustrate how such an analysis may be developed. We focus on forms which have been described as ‘compassionate interjections’, which express that the speaker takes a compassionate affective stance towards something described in prior talk or evident in the situation. Despite differences in the morphological properties of these words in the languages we compare here, they display remarkable similarities in where they occur within conversational turns, and the functions they serve in different turn-related positions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)158-189
Number of pages32
JournalAustralian Journal of Linguistics
Issue number2
Early online date23 Oct 2023
Publication statusPublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2023. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • interjections
  • interactional linguistics
  • Gija
  • Jaru
  • Garrwa
  • Murrinhpatha; compassion


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