11704 - ¿One ¿ or more¿: Optional Plural Marking and the Animacy Hierarchy in Cabécar (Chibchan)

“One – or more”: Optional Plural Marking and the Animacy Hierarchy in Cabécar (Chibchan) The notion of animacy is highly relevant for typological and cognitive studies: the animacy hierarchy is defined as a language universal (Comrie 1989) which has radical effects on grammatical structure. Optional plural marking systems with splits correlate with this category, so that e.g. humans are obligatorily marked for number, while non-human or inanimate referents are not (Corbett 2000). The present study aims at exploring this relationship between animacy and number in an endangered Chibchan language in Costa Rica. From a cognitive linguistics point of view, it focuses on the realization and conceptualization of plural referents which are not overtly marked as such. In Cabécar, the nominal plural marker -wá is said to be obligatory with 3rd person pronouns and human referents. With non-human referents (animates and inanimates), plural marking is optional (Quesada 2007). However, the data collected in 2011 does not clearly support this well-defined split. Preliminary results suggest that the Cabécar plural marking system loosens the animacy split: plural human referents are seldom marked accordingly. At the same time, in intuition experiments, NPs not marked for plural are often realized and conceptualized as denoting singular human referents, while assumed plural reference is explained in relation to syntactic structure and to world knowledge. The underlying conceptualization of referents and their linguistic manifestation therefore reflect a complex interplay of animacy, language-specific structure and encyclopaedic knowledge. Comrie, B. 1989. Language Universals and Linguistic Typology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Corbett, G. G. 2000. Number. Cambridge: CUP. Quesada, J. D. 2007. The Chibchan Languages. Cartago: Editorial Tecnológica de Costa Rica.

Keywords: Chibchan languages, optional plural marking, animacy hierarchy, number

Author: Pasamonik, Carolina (Bielefeld University, Germany / Deutschland)


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