Managing expectations: Referential expectedness and uncertainty in a non-configurational language
Giovanni Ma, John Mansfield
April 2023

One of the central goals of human language is to convey intended messages successfully to the addressee. However, communication inherently involves uncertainty or unexpectedness which hinders this delivery. Different languages have different strategies to mitigate this uncertainty. In this article, we explore the strategies used in Murrinhpatha, a non-configurational Australian Aboriginal language. We argue that Murrinhpatha speakers utilise the language’s syntactic flexibility to manage referential uncertainty and unexpectedness in communication. Highly unexpected referents tend to be expressed preverbally, while expected referents which need to be ‘reinforced’ are usually expressed postverbally, and those which are uniquely expected are usually syntactically omitted. We also argue that expectation and uncertainty provide a more convincing account of the Murrinhpatha evidence compared to an alternative account of cognitive accessibility. Our findings shed new light on several aspects of non-configurational syntax, including pragmatic salience and newsworthiness, and the functional distinctions between postverbal constituents and syntactic omission.
Format: [ pdf ]
Reference: lingbuzz/007306
(please use that when you cite this article)
Published in: Studies in Language (submitted)
keywords: referential uncertainty, non-configurationality, free word order, australian aboriginal languages, syntax, syntax
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