Personal Deixis is Rawang Ata

1. Deictic pronouns

Unlike many languages, Rawàng Ata does not have a single set of pronouns – aside from the ostensives, oblates and positionals with pronominal uses, there are also sets of deictic, anaphoric and directive pronouns. In many, if not most, cases, no pronoun will be used at all, with “pseudo-pronouns” preferred. Here, however, we will concern ourselves only with deictic pronouns.

Deictic pronouns refer to members of classes that are present at hand during discourse – normally physically, but occasionally only metaphorically. All deictic pronouns are considered to be third person animate for purposes of animacy and agreement. Deictic pronouns inflect for plural number. Below, the forms will be listed in the order [singular, plural].

The deictic pronouns relating to women (tàniko, mahikò and kanihā) are:

īkana,īkanāi – adult woman

kīkana, (no plural) – old or powerful woman (respectful)

īkaròi, īkarotan – young girl

kīkaròi (no plural usually, sometimes kīkarotan) – young aristocratic girl (or beloved girl)

īkòi, īkomā – young serf girl

kīkòi, (no plural) – adult serf woman (used in formal contexts; otherwise īkana)

īkodo, ikomā – vagabond, outlaw, foreigner, or ‘masculine’ woman (also term of affection for kanihā)

ikōro, ikōromā – woman of importance but not accorded respect

suata, susata – old woman (not respectful, though not always insulting)

akīkana, akīkanāi – younger sister of discourse participant (sometime not literally)

The deictic prouns relating to men:

bāna, bānako – man

bāoi, bāoko – serf man, or non-serf boy

nùko, nùnuko – serf boy

babā, bābamā – old man

For neuters:

akàina, akàināi – kimyō

ortu, orotu – ortu

The pronouns for women trigger feminine agreement; the others do not.

2. Syntactic/Semantic Functions of Personal Deixis

Deictic pronouns have a range of pragmatic and syntactic functions. Syntactically, their chief importance is their animacy, which interacts with the transitivity of verbs:

kimyōya rasileta kòman

“The kimyō kissed the girl”

As the animacy of subject and object is the same, the verb is intransitive, and the subject is marked with the ergative. This, however, prevents certain information from being present – information about other failures of transitivity.

akàina rasileta kòman

“The kimyō kissed the girl”

Here, the pronoun has a higher animacy than the object, and so the verb is transitive and does not have to be in the ergative. This allows us to create a contrasting sentence:

akàinaya rasileta kòman

“The kimyō kissed the girl”

Here, the subject is in the ergative, indicating that the verb is not transitive. Yet this cannot be due to inherent animacy, as the subject does indeed outrank the object. Hence we can conclude that either the subject lacked volition or the action was not entirely successful.

The opposite effect can also be employed:

kimyōya rasileta īkaròim

“The kimyō kissed the girl”

Technically, no more is implied than this than by the first sentence, but the intentional choice of a pronoun draws attention to the lack of animacy, and strongly suggests that this is the reason for the lack of transitivity – and thus that the action was both intentional and successful.

Deictic pronouns, whether personal, ostensive, positional or oblate, are never ordinarily topics; topicalising them is thus highly marked, and generally indicates control of influence:

īkaròim kimyōya rasileta

“The girl was kissed by the kimyō”

As in the previous case, this is strongly suggested to be voluntary on the part of the kimyō, but the undue topicalising of the pronoun implies that the girl has helped bring this situation about.

[For a willing girl and an unwilling kimyō, the construction would be: īkaròi kimyōya rasileta nàm. This employs the deictic pronoun as a non-subject agent and introduces an anaphoric pronoun for the object.]

Finally, the interaction of deictic pronouns with the anchors of positional deictics has been explained in an earlier section.

3. Pragmatic Functions of Personal Deixis

Deictic pronouns are used for people who can be ‘pointed to’ – present to the senses, or recently present to the senses, or perhaps present to the imagination, or anticipated to be present to the senses. In all these cases, there must be a feasible contact with the speaker and/or listener.

However, deictic pronouns are not always used in these cases, primarily because of register concerns. It sounds informal and imprecise to avoid deictic pronouns when they can be used, while never avoiding them sounds stilted and precise. They are thus more common in formal contexts. However, it is also impolite to over-use them for participants in a discourse (including listeners), even in formal contexts. Yet at the same time, when used with specifically first- and second-person semantics, pseudo-pronouns can sound overly casual, and deictic pronouns used when there is a serious purpose.

To summarise then, in general:

–         for first and second person, deictic pronouns are used to demonstrate seriousness, unless directive pronouns are called for

–         for third-person participants, deictic pronouns are only used when being extremely formal

–         for third-person non-participants, deictic pronouns are used in formal or precise contexts

This is only a general picture, and it is usual for a variety of pronouns to be used in the course of a discourse – in particular, using a deictic pronoun on each occasion would be extremely stilted.

However, all the above is altered by power relations. Those in positions of power, authority or status over their interlocutors may use deictic pronouns when they would not otherwise be used, and so their use can enforce claims of superiority; however, it should be noted that politeness is considered a virtue even in the powerful, and excessive use of deictics should thus only be used in establishing or calling to mind a legitimate power relation when it is in question, not as a continual means of self-elevation.

Contrariwise, those in weaker positions are unlikely to ever use deictic pronouns for their superiors.

Finally, due to the difficulties sometimes in finding an appropriate pseudo-pronoun for all members of a group, the plural forms of the deictics are used rather more frequently than the singulars.

Whether it is these pragmatic concerns or the syntactic and semantic concerns addressed above that influences word choice is very much a matter for context. In general, specific syntactic motivations trump these general pragmatic considerations – although in cases where social status and politeness are particularly salient, these may move to the forefront.


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