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Demonstratives in Dalabon interactions

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Cutfield, S. (2013). Demonstratives in Dalabon interactions. Talk presented at Linguistics Colloquium. University of California at Santa Barbara.

In this seminar, I report on the exophoric (or, 'spatial') uses of the demonstratives in interactions in Dalabon, a non-Pama-Nyungan language of southwestern Arnhem Land. Traditional descriptions of the spatial uses and other semantics of demonstratives have characterised the spatial distinctions as symmetrical, or as being equally-spaced and paradigmatically-opposed (e.g. proximal/distal, proximal/medial/distal, near-spkr/near-addr/away-from-both) (Fillmore 1982; Anderson and Keenan 1985; Diessel 1999; Dixon 2003). Recent work suggests that these characterisations may in fact be masking the real paradigmatic distributions, which may not be equal (Levinson 2000:79), spatial (Özyürek 2001), or even semantic (Enfield 2003; Hanks 2005). In Lao for example, the demonstrative nii is semantically general with respect to spatial reference, while the demonstrative nan specifies that the referent is something 'not here' (Enfield 2003). Enfield argues that the use of nii can conversationally implicate that the referent is 'here', on account of pragmative paradigmatic opposition with nan 'not here'. I investigate the exophoric uses of the demonstratives in Dalabon according to several deictic parameters (referent location, concurrent pointing, discourse status of the referent, referent visibility, etc). I show that speakers make exophoric reference according to whichever deictic parameter is most salient or useful to them at the moment of utterance. The concept of the 'here-space' is significant in understanding speakers' choice of demonstrative, as well as related concepts of 'engagement area' and 'common ground'. Speakers instantiate, index and monitor these concepts with their use of demonstratives in ongoing interaction. The oppositions in the Dalabon demonstrative paradigm are shown to be unequal, not necessarily based on spatial contrasts, or semantics altogether, with some demonstratives specialising for spatial reference, and others specialising as indicators of assumed 'identifiability' or 'unfamiliarity' of the referent.