Systems of Deixis in Rawang Ata: Version

Whether version ought really to be considered deictic is debateable; nonetheless, it does have deictic characteristics, and so we include it here. Version is a characteristic of nouns that has deictic, anaphoric and descriptive uses. There are three ‘versions’ – primary, secondary and tertiary. These are marked with the suffixes -(a)wi, -(i)ri and -(a)jna respectively, although common nouns need not be marked for primary, nor local nouns for tertiary.

Verbs inflect to agree with the version of their heads – the suffixes -ir and –ajn are applied between the root (or person agreement, in the case of feminine verbs) and the ition suffix.

Version and Control

One of the most important aspects of version is its role in denoting control by the speaker. Common (i.e. not local) nouns by default have primary version – marking them instead for secondary version indicates that the object in question is under the control of the speaker. “Control”, however, takes a number of forms. Physical contact with the object, having the object within one’s sphere of influence, being able to influence the object’s actions, ownership of the object, creation of the object, and taking responsibility over the object can all be considered forms of control. Referring to any object with an ostensive makes control clear (and ostensives, used pronominally, have secondary version in all cases), while referring to something with an oblate eliminates control.


“My stone” or “this stone here”

Version, Topics, Influence, and Agency

Nouns with secondary version are considered deictic pronominals to the extent that they are not ordinarily topicalised, and topicalising one gives it a position of influence over the events of the clause.

Relatedly, and in relation to control, when a noun with secondary version appears as a non-agent subject, there is a suggestion that the speaker has a degree of agenthood.

Version and Distinction

When two objects referred to by the same noun need to be distinguished, version is one way to do so. There are two scenarios – alternation (where an interlocutor introduces a new object) and progression (where the speaker introduces a second object). In alternation, each speaker refers to the object they mentioned with secondary version – as though claiming control. In progression, the speaker assigns the new object a new version – secondary if the first was primary, or tertiary if the first was secondary. The interlocutor will then follow this order. If they wish to raise a primary version noun to secondary (by claiming control), the noun that was in secondary will be raised to tertiary – the first speaker will then follow the new order (if being polite).

As confusion may arise, it is not unusual to use adjectives (descriptive or deictic) to make these assignments clear, at least on first introduction. In particular, the contrastive deictics are of great use when the objects are actually to hand.

Version and Locality

Local nouns are by default of tertiary version, and giving a common noun tertiary version will promote them to local nouns – unless it is done clearly for reasons of distinction, as above.

Local nouns have meaning similar to common nouns, but refer to particular objects, defined by the community of speakers; they are called local nouns because they refer to objects in the locality of a discourse. Often they occur in doublets with common nouns. For instance, tamussì and byala both mean “mountain”, but the former is common and the latter is deictic – that is, in each community there will be a ‘mountain’ (or more often simply a high point) referred to as byala, and this will differ between communities. The section on positional deixis already explored the implications for this on the anchors of positionals. Some nouns, however, occur only as local nouns, with no common equivalent: baryōng, “house” is a local noun referring to the house of the speaker and interlocutor. Where there is no commonality of local nouns, the noun must be made non-local by altering its version to primary or secondary. Thus:


“our house”


“my house”


“your house/their house”

Version and Dependent Nouns

Like local nouns, dependent nouns rely on something else for their meaning – but where local nouns are essentially deictic, dependent nouns are essentially anaphoric. A good example would be the word , meaning “male relative on mother’s side without power relation” (i.e. brothers, cousins, uncles, but not the patriarch), or sometimes “male sibling or half-sibling”. This word by itself does not refer to a specific person – only the context of the sentence can do this. Each dependent noun has a ‘subject’ that gives it its specific reference – in this case, the subject tells us who the brother is a brother of. Normally, with primary version, the subject of a dependent noun is the topic; however, when a dependent noun has secondary version, its subject is, generally, the speaker. Dependent nouns can never be given tertiary version.

Version and Person

Non-directive pronouns used with first-person semantics are often considered to have secondary version, and verbs agree accordingly, even though deictic pronouns do not inflect for version:

dattaya rahanta

“the sailor threw something”


dattariya rahantira

“I threw something” (spoken by a sailor).

This use of version is not compulsory, and generally occurs to avoid ambiguity.


One thought on “Systems of Deixis in Rawang Ata: Version

  1. miekko says:

    I don’t particularly have any questions, altho’ two comments I do have are:

    1. it is difficult reading; of course, any linguistic phenomenon that is controlled by as many parameters as this will be difficult to read about – there’ll always loads of ‘unless’ and such with rather … well, unclear delineations.

    2. these posts increasingly convince me that blog posts is *the* way per excellence to present a conlang. The individual posts will be small enough chunks to be interesting to read through, thoughts about the design can be expressed in a way that might seem weird in a more ‘reference grammar’-like style, and one can focus on and elaborate on whatever part of the language one is working on or currently finds interesting – whereas a more reference-grammar style necessarily will progress through the elements in a rather rigid order and omissions will seem much more prevalent when they occur.

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