Dependencies in Syntax and Discourse: Obviation in Blackfoot and Beyond

  • Heather Anne Bliss University of Victoria
Keywords: Algonquian, obviation, dependency, syntax, discourse, topic


Obviation is a hallmark trait of Algonquian, but how does it fit in a typology of natural language phenomenon? Analyses tend to focus on either its discourse or syntactic properties, and there is disagreement about whether obviation is pragmatic or syntactic in origin. I propose that pragmatic and syntactic approaches are not incompatible, but rather reflect a phenomenon I refer to as recruitment, whereby functional items in the syntax take on discourse uses. Drawing on data from Blackfoot, I demonstrate that obviation encodes syntactic dependencies, and this renders it compatible to signal dependencies in discourse. The analysis is also extended to Algonquian languages more broadly.

Author Biography

Heather Anne Bliss, University of Victoria
I am a Banting Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Victoria and an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Linguistics at UBC