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Pragmatic Influences on Argument Word Order in Karuk Narrative Texts

Abstract

Karuk is a non-configurational, polysynthetic, headmarking language spoken near the Klamath River in Northern California (Davis et al., 2020). This paper seeks to answer the following question about Karuk word order: what factors significantly influence the order in which nominal arguments appear with respect to their verbs? Specifically, I examine whether or not the following factors have a significant effect on word order: referential distance, topic persistence, thematic continuity, predicate transitivity, and animacy. Using a logistic regression model, I found that referential distance was a significant predictor of subject position (p < 0.05) and that animacy was a significant predictor of object position (p < 0.05). My findings indicate that for subjects, lower values of referential distance are correlated with a greater frequency of postverbal realizations. In addition, I found that animate objects are more likely than inanimate ones to appear postverbally. With some variations, my findings concerning referential distance are similar to findings from Ute (Givon, 1983a), Klamath (Meyer, 1992), and Chamorro (Cooreman, 1992), and my study supports the prediction that postverbal position has a tendency to encode continuous referents in languages with pragmatically controlled word order (Givon, 1983b). On the other hand, my findings concerning animacy suggest an iconic relationship between the markedness of animate objects in Karuk and the markedness of postverbal word order.

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