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The cultural bases of linguistic form: The development of Nanti quotative evidentials


There can be little doubt that social practices and culture a↵ect language; the interesting question is: in what concrete ways is linguistic form and structure shaped by culture, and what are the processes by which culture does so? One approach, culture-driven grammaticalization theory (Simpson 2002, Evans 2003), suggests that cultural influence on linguistic form is mediated by the development of conventionalized communicative practices that increase the frequency of particular lexical items, constructions, and pragmatic inferences in discourse, thereby putting in place a crucial pre-condition for their grammaticalization.

The goal of this chapter is to contribute to the development of culture-driven grammaticalization theory by developing an account of the cultural basis for the grammaticalization of quotative evidentials in Nanti, an Arawak language of lowland southeastern Peru. In particular, I argue that Nanti quotative evidentials grammaticalized from inflected verbs of speaking that achieved high discourse frequencies due to the emergence of communicative practices that link respectful communicative conduct towards others with the avoidance of speculation about others’ actions and internal states. As part of this communicative practice, Nantis largely restrict their discussion of others’ actions and internal states to two domains: reported speech regarding others’ actions and internal states, and actions that they witnessed themselves, which can also serve to index internal states.

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