Dependencies in Syntax and Discourse: Obviation in Blackfoot and Beyond

Heather Anne Bliss


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.


Algonquian; obviation; dependency; syntax; discourse; topic

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Working Papers of the Linguistics Circle

EISSN: 1920-440X
ISSN: 1200-3344

University of Victoria