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Is ergativity always a marker of agency? Toraja and Samoan grammar of action and the contribution of emancipatory pragmatics to social theory

Is ergativity always a marker of agency? Toraja and Samoan grammar of action and the contribution... This article argues that looking at the grammatical encoding of agency in lan- guages other than English helps us understand vernacular theories of action and enhances our critical awareness of the influence played by Western lin- guistics on our interpretations of cultural realities and on the shaping of social theoretical categories. Duranti’s (1990, 1994) ethnopragmatic analysis on how agency is grammati- cized in Samoan political oratory showed that the usage of ergative constructions was strongly associated with the attribution of agency and responsibility to the referent of the noun phrase to which the ergative preposition /e/ was prefaced. Drawing on a corpus of political meetings video-taped between 2002 and 2003 in upland Sulawesi (Indonesia), this article describes the linguistic encoding of agency in Toraja, a language that like Samoan belongs to the Austronesian language family and presents ergative features. Unlike what was shown by Du- ranti for Samoan, my data reveal that ergative constructions in Toraja mitigate instead of foregrounding the referent’s agentivity and responsibility. While de- scribing how agency is encoded in alternative grammatical patterns, the anal- ysis shows how an understanding of agency informed by semantic notions of transitivity is not completely adequate for the Toraja ethnolinguistic http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Applied Linguistics Review de Gruyter

Is ergativity always a marker of agency? Toraja and Samoan grammar of action and the contribution of emancipatory pragmatics to social theory

Applied Linguistics Review , Volume 1 (2010): 28 – Jun 14, 2010

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Publisher
de Gruyter
Copyright
Copyright © by Walter de Gruyter GmbH
ISSN
1868-6303
eISSN
1868-6311
DOI
10.1515/9783110222654.193
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

This article argues that looking at the grammatical encoding of agency in lan- guages other than English helps us understand vernacular theories of action and enhances our critical awareness of the influence played by Western lin- guistics on our interpretations of cultural realities and on the shaping of social theoretical categories. Duranti’s (1990, 1994) ethnopragmatic analysis on how agency is grammati- cized in Samoan political oratory showed that the usage of ergative constructions was strongly associated with the attribution of agency and responsibility to the referent of the noun phrase to which the ergative preposition /e/ was prefaced. Drawing on a corpus of political meetings video-taped between 2002 and 2003 in upland Sulawesi (Indonesia), this article describes the linguistic encoding of agency in Toraja, a language that like Samoan belongs to the Austronesian language family and presents ergative features. Unlike what was shown by Du- ranti for Samoan, my data reveal that ergative constructions in Toraja mitigate instead of foregrounding the referent’s agentivity and responsibility. While de- scribing how agency is encoded in alternative grammatical patterns, the anal- ysis shows how an understanding of agency informed by semantic notions of transitivity is not completely adequate for the Toraja ethnolinguistic

Journal

Applied Linguistics Reviewde Gruyter

Published: Jun 14, 2010

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