Grammar, dimension and deixis in Phola, a Tibeto-Burman language of China




González Pérez, Manuel David

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Based on 6 months of fieldwork this thesis presents the most important findings of my PhD research on Phola, a previously undocumented language of China that belongs to the Loloish (aka Ngwi) branch of the Tibeto-Burman family. The main focus is on how spatial categories in language not only reflect the external world but also convey subjective, intersubjective and social aspects of human reality. This is examined through two grammatical paradigms that encode dimensional and deictic distinctions, respectively, and whose formal complexities lend themselves particularly well to the investigation of semantic and pragmatic contrasts. It is found that both systems exhibit a back-and-forth between perceptually observable spatial features and non-perceptual ones, a phenomenon that has three main causes. Firstly, dimensional and deictic, categories are semantically underspecified and thus dependent on the context of the speech act. Secondly, there is a communicative pressure for language to accomodate not only perceptual but also non-perceptual aspects of human experience such as attentional states as well as territories of discourse and knowledge. Thirdly, the availability of multiple dimensional and deictic terms in the language allows speakers to emphasise different perspectives, e.g., spatial vs attentional. Understanding these systems requires two main ingredients. First, a basic description of the overall grammatical structures of the Phola language. Second, saturated analyses of pragmatic context, including topographical data, and multimodal cues, such as gestures and eye gaze, which flesh out the meaning of dimensional and deictic expressions. Hence, video recordings are heavily drawn upon throughout this thesis, especially in Chapters 6 to 9, to examine the interaction of spatial, attentional and social factors driving the choice of linguistic forms. The thesis is structured as follows. After a providing some background information on the Phola speech community and the theoretical and methodological underpinnings of this thesis (Part 1), the basic grammar of the language is presented (Part 2) followed by an analysis of formal, semantic and multimodal aspects of the dimensional and deictic paradigms (Part 3). Then, an in-depth pragmatic study of naturalistic deictic usage is presented (Part 4) followed by a summary of findings and future directions for research (Part 5).






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