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Title: Ojibwe Discourse Markers
Authors: Fairbanks, Brendan George
Keywords: American Indigenous Languages (Northern)
Algic Languages
Issue Date: 2009
Publisher: The University of Minnesota
Abstract: In this thesis, I describe the functions of a variety of discourse markers in the Ojibwe language, a language belonging to the Algonquian family of languages of North America. Discourse markers have been defined by Schiffrin as “sequentially dependent elements which bracket units of talk” (Schiffrin 1987:31), and as elements which, among other things, are syntactically detachable from a sentence (i.e. independent of sentential structure), and commonly used in initial position (Schiffrin 1987:32, 328). This thesis shows that her initial characterization must be broadened in order to account for languages such as Ojibwe which show discourse markers occurring in both initial and second position, and for other languages which show discourse markers occurring in medial and final positions. Also, since many languages like Ojibwe and the Amazonian languages examined in this thesis make regular use of clitics and affixes as discourse markers, I show that not all discourse markers are ‘detachable’ from their containing sentences. Based upon this and other cross-linguistic evidence, I offer a definition of discourse markers which essentially refines Schiffrin’s characterization. This thesis ultimately reveals the exploitive nature of language (and ultimately of its speakers) in regards to discourse. While languages show that individual words, particles, lexicalized phrases, clitics, and affixes may be ‘exploited’ for their sentence-level functions for work at the discourse level, Ojibwe shows that entire inflectional systems may also be targets for discourse work. For example, Ojibwe exploits the sentence-level cohesive function of conjunct verbs in order to mark the eventline structure of a narrative. This accounts for the seemingly contradictive ability of conjunct verbs to serve as subordinate clauses at the sentence level, but as independent clauses at the discourse level. Such behavior, termed in this thesis as “discourse marking,” shows that the use of morphological forms must also be included within a viable definition of discourse markers.
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