Abstract

Saisiyat, an Austronesian language spoken in northwest Taiwan, has an elaborate case marking system for nominals and pronominals, but the nominative case is often zero marked. Based on natural spoken data, we demonstrate that this absence of nominative case markers is closely tied to the ongoing word order shift from a V-initial language to a strongly subject-initial language, especially in Agent-Focus sentences, rendering any marking for the nominative case pragmatically redundant. Nominative case marking remains a pragmatic option for the presentative construction to introduce a new referent into discourse. A second issue addressed concerns the coding of the Recipient in a ditransitive sentence. We present an unusual case of biaccusative constructions where the semantic role of the Recipient is marked by either the dative or the accusative case marker, the choice being pragmatically determined by the spatial or psychological distance between the Agent and the Recipient. If the Recipient is perceived as being within the spatial or psychological sphere of influence of the Agent and consequently likely to be affected by the action of the Agent, the accusative case is preferred; elsewhere the dative is used. The effect of this is to produce biaccusative constructions, because the Theme in ditransitive sentences is always coded by the accusative case. Case marking in Saisiyat therefore cannot be dissociated from the discourse-pragmatics of language use and an understanding of the nature of the word order change the language is currently undergoing.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9421
Print ISSN
0029-8115
Pages
pp. 91-109
Launched on MUSE
2006-08-02
Open Access
No
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