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The Nanti reality status system: Implications for the typological validity of the realis/irrealis contrast

Abstract

This article describes the reality status system of Nanti (Arawak) and argues that it constitutes an instance of a canonical reality status system. The relevance of such a system is examined in the light of literature that casts doubt on the typological validity of reality status as crosslinguistic grammatical category. It is shown that reality status is an obligatory inflectional category in Nanti, and that the distribution of realis and irrealis marking across Nanti construction types hews closely to expectations based on notional understandings of “realis” and “irrealis” categories grounded in a contrast between “realized” and “unrealized” situations. It is also shown that the Nanti reality status system does not exhibit evidence of being based, either synchronically or diachronically, on semantically narrower notions that could account for the distribution of reality status marking in the language, without recourse to the more generalized notions of realized and unrealized events. It is suggested that the Nanti reality status system might serve as a suitable canonical system around which a canonical typology of reality status might be built.

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