Reference assignment in pronominal argument languages: a relevance-theoretical perspective
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Reference assignment in pronominal argument languages – a relevance-theoretical perspective My aim in this chapter is to discuss reference assignment in pronominal argument languages. Pronominal reference assignment is understood in Relevance Theory as an online process of enriching an explicature (Sperber & Wilson 1995). It encodes procedural meaning, contributes to the computational side of comprehension and is part of the relevance-theoretic comprehension heuristic. The procedural status of pronominal reference assignment has been well documented (Wilson & Sperber 1993, Sperber & Wilson 1995, Hedley 2005, Cram & Hedley 2005, Carston 2002, and Blakemore 2002). I will demonstrate that in pronominal argument languages – a term coined by Jelinek 1984 – in which the pronominal is incorporated in the verb, two procedures are involved in reference assignment: first the referent is identified for cost-effective interpretation, secondly an attributive expression achieves referential status through the identification on the verb. In many African languages nominal expressions are not marked for definiteness or indefiniteness, thus they enter the conversation as ambiguous with regard to definiteness. In order to disambiguate nominal expressions pragmatic enrichment is required. For an attributive reading the procedure of saturation takes place and a pragmatic value ‘whichever’ is added, and for the referential interpretation of a nominal expression enrichment based on context is applied. Utterances in pronominal languages also follow a ‘double-strategy’ in reference assignment, i.e. the pronominal referent is marked on the verb and is also used overtly as independent pronoun. In such cases the independent pronoun does not have a procedural function which helps the addressee to identify the correct referent of the utterance, as the reference assignment is encoded on the verb, but the identification of the independent pronoun requires extra processing effort and thus creates the cognitive effects of focus by identification and contrastive focus which also yields strong and weak implicatures for the addressee. This paper is based on data from Toposa, an Eastern Nilotic language from South Sudan, and Kiswahili spoken in Kenya.