Areal pragmatics of New Guinea: Thematization, distribution and recapitulative linkage in Papuan languages

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Papuan speech communities in New Guinea share a number of specific discourse preferences that are used in similar ways in certain genres. This article focuses on three discourse practices as they operate in narrative texts; thematization (a strong preference for Theme, Predication or Left Dislocation constructions), distribution (a strong preference to distribute nominals over series of clauses and of modifiers over series of phrases) and recapitulative linkage (connecting clause chains or sentences by tail-head linkage). Thematization occurs especially in discourse initial paragraphs when the time, place, participant and main themes are introduced, and in discourse final paragraphs with summarizing and concluding functions. Thematization combines with non-distributive forms in these contexts to form discourse units in which the number and complexity of nominal phrases is relatively high. Such thematic parts are not organized around progression of events and recapitulative linkage is hardly present. Once the story is underway, distributive tendencies become more dominant, with unmarked, chained forms of recapitulative linkage connecting the often lengthy and 'verby' sentences into chaining paragraphs. When marked, thematized recapitulative linkage occurs, this signals thematic discontinuity. Many aspects of the typology of Papuan languages, from demonstrative topic markers to experiential, subordinate and perception complement constructions, can be understood from the perspective of these areal discourse preferences of Papuan speakers. But the identification of these areal pragmatic patterns not only enhances our understanding of the specific nature of Papuan languages, it also has crucial methodological implications for the way field linguists transcribe and analyse whole texts or single expressions from these languages. Ignoring these discourse practices may lead to serious distortions in the transcription and collection of data and in the grammatical description of these languages. © 2005 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)811-828
JournalJournal of Pragmatics
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 2006


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