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For some time now I’ve misguidedly thought that there was very little attention paid to polysynthesis in the CA (Conversation Analysis) literature. I now realize how very wrong I was. On the contrary, it seems that polysynthesis and CA go together like love and marriage, but I was too blind to see it. As I digested as much of the literature as I could find, I really only came across one book and three obscure papers by Roger Spielmann on Ojibwe interaction and I thought that’s about where it ends. You see I was having trouble trying reconcile Murriny Patha conversation with what I was reading. Typologically it is just light years removed from everything being discussed. And much of the literature in interactional linguistics is very syntactically oriented rather than morphosyntactically oriented. I had been thinking that conversation analysts had studiously avoided this type of language (Spielmann being the exception). However I must have had blinkers on or something. You know what it’s like when you can’t see the wood for the trees?

I can see why I never spotted it before. See Murriny Patha, unlike some other polysynthetic languages doesn’t tend to nominalize its verbs (unlike Ngalakgan and I think Mohawk and probably heaps of others). So I’m just not used to recognizing the phenomenon when it’s right under my nose.

See a great deal of the CA literature is full of polysynthesis. Well, we need to be apply a liberal interpretation of ‘polysynthesis’. So for example information is less often packaged into verbal structures, and more often into nominal structures. We don’t see noun-incorporation. But we do see verb-incorporation, AND the rest. At the very least, we can definitely say Conversation Analysts seem to delight in highly agglutinative structures. I think what we have here may possibly be a precursor to polysynthesis. To exemplify the phenomenon, one only needs to read about conversational preferences:

(1) “The preference for recipient design: ‘If they are possible, prefer recognitionals. By ‘recognitionals’, we intend, such reference forms as invite and allow a recipient to find, from some ‘this-referrers-use-of-a-reference-form’ on some ‘this-occasion-of-use,’ who, that recipient knows is being referred to.” (Sacks & Schegloff 1979: 16-17)

Or repair:

(2) “…one sequence type environment in which other-correction is used, in a manner which exploits its potential relationship to disagreement, is the storytelling sequence in conversation. There an ‘as-of-some-point-non-teller’ of a story starting to be told, or in progress, may use other-correction of the teller as a bid, or subsequently as a vehicle, for being a co-teller of the story – making, with the initial teller, a ‘team’.” (Schegloff et al. 1977: 380)

At first I thought that a lot of this stuff was quite impenetrable, but now I’m getting used to it. If you read it with a ‘treat-as-if-polysynthethic’ detachment, it’s not so hard to follow.

On turn-taking:

(3) “Further more the ‘first starter has rights’ provision rule 1b provides an ordering, with the possibilities provided by that technique group, which is addressed to the possibility of multiple self-selection opened up by that technique.” (Sacks et al. 1974: 705)

Rule 1b itself is a ‘case-in-point’ (<– I just can’t help myself):
(4) “If the turn-so-far is constructed to use a ‘current speaker selects next technique’ then self-selection for next speakership may, but need, not be instituted; first starter…(Sacks et al. 1974: 704)”

(5) “With regards to the ‘begin with a beginning constraint’ and its consequences, a familiar class of constructions is of interest.” (Sacks et al. 1974: 719)

On sequence organization:

(6) Of special interest here are what we might call ‘pre-first-topic closing-offerings’, of which all but one….” (Schegloff & Sacks 1973: 316)

Morphosyntactically this is the most interesting English I’ve ever seen! I mean you just shouldn’t be able to do stuff like this to English, it’s extraordinary. These nominals, particularly (4) and (5), really look more like those Ngalakgan place names that are derived from polysynthetic verbs (cf. (7), Baker 2002: 114)

(7) Jarrburdetjbutjjunyga
Jarr-burru-detj+bu+tjj+iny-ga

?leg-3pl-?cross+hit+Refl+Past.Cont-Loc
‘where-they-crossed-their-legs’

I’m pleased to say however that we aren’t limited to nominal structures, we do find verbs as well, or verbalized nominal structures anyway (which is encouraging!). CA is fond of ‘doing’ stuff. In CA you can be ‘doing’ just about anything you want, if you want. (My own dissertation will be “Doing Referring in Murriny Patha Conversation”.) So we have:

(8) “…environments in which speakers are claimably, or better yet, demonstrably, orienting to producing talk that is ‘saying/doing the same thing by using the same words’, or what I at times refer to more compactly as “same talk”. (Schegloff 2004: 119)

Nice? Here’s a better one:

(9) “But there can also be particular types of jobs precipitated by or made relevant by […] doing sequentially appropriate nexts, …” (Schegloff 1996: 82)

This is an extraordinarily creative use of language and I like it immensely. I also have to say that this I feel should be the true direction for the English language. I think we should foster it and further develop it. And we should widen the contexts in which we find such novel use of compounding. If we all began to do this on a daily basis it would create a revolution for English not seen on such a scale since the Norman French provided us so much of our lexicon. What we really should be trying achieve, is developing an infinitely agglutinating word structure. If we can then extend this infinite agglutination into all word classes we might then just wind up flat syntactic structures and polysynthesis. Now it would not be the first time that polysynthetic structures have emerged from earlier phrasal structures, see for instance Reid (2003). Bring it on I say! Otherwise we run the risk of speaking a ‘died-in-the-wool’ language. We need to be innovative.

Actually I’ll go one step further than that. (See what too many rarefied late nights on a dissertation does to the train of thought.) As we see the spread of the global ‘Mc-English’ into more and more domains of usage, and with it the loss of indigenous languages, as linguists concerned about linguistic diversity, we can document endangered languages and take efforts to maintain them; OR (=and/or) we can buck against the trend and take steps to increase the typological diversity within mainstream languages. So we should all take a leaf out of the CA literature and start agglutinating rampantly, before it’s too late!

Hopefully soon I’ll cut my teeth and master this “informationally-packaging-disjunctive-elements-compounding-strategy” and then learn to use it in “situationally-misfitting-of-conventionalized-environments” such as (0.8) “talk-in-interaction” for instance.


References:

Baker, Brett (2002). 'I'm going to Where-her-brisket-is': Placenames on the Roper. In Luise Hercus, Flavia Hodges and Jane Simpson (eds.), The Land is a Map: Placenames of Indigenous Origin in Australia Canberra: Pandanus Books.

Reid, Nicholas (2003). Phrasal Verb to synthetic verb: recorded morphosyntactic change in Ngan'gityemerri. In Nicholas Evans (ed.), The Non-Pama-Nyungan Languages of Northern Australia: Comparative studies of the continent's most linguistically complex region 95-123. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.

Sacks, Harvey and Schegloff, Emanuel A. (1979). Two Preferences in the Organization of Reference to Persons in Conversation and Their Interaction. In George Psathas (ed.), Everyday Language: Studies in Ethnomethodology 15-21. New York: Irvington.

Sacks, Harvey, Schegloff, Emanuel A. and Jefferson, Gail (1974). The simplest systematics for the organization of turn-taking for conversation. Language 50, 696-735.

Schegloff, Emanuel A. (1996). Turn organization: one direction for inquiry into grammar and interaction. In Elinor Ochs, Emanuel A. Schegloff and Sandra A. Thompson (eds.), Interaction and Grammar 52-133. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Schegloff, Emanuel A. (2004). On Dispensability. Research on Language and Social Interaction 37, 95-149.

Schegloff, Emanuel A., Jefferson, Gail and Sacks, Harvey (1977). The Preference for Self-correction in the Organisation of Repair in Conversation. Language 53, 361-82.

Schegloff, Emanuel A. and Sacks, Harvey (1973). Opening Up Closings. Semiotica 8, 289-327.

Spielmann, Roger W. (1987). Preference and sequential organization in Algonquin. In William Cowan (ed.), Papers of the Eighteenth Algonquian Conference 321-33. Ottawa: Carleton University.

Spielmann, Roger W. (1988). What’s so funny? Laughing together in Algonquin conversation. In William Cowan (ed.), Papers of the Nineteenth Algonquian Conference 201-12. Ottawa: Carlton University.

Spielmann, Roger W. (1998). "You're So Fat!": Exploring Ojibwe Discourse. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Spielmann, Roger W. and Chief, Bertha (1986). Requesting and rejecting in Algonquin: Notes on a conversation. In William Cowan (ed.), Actes du dix-septième Congrès des Algonquinistes 313-26. Ottowa: Carleton University.

Comments

What a cheer-my-day-polysynthesis-rules-OK post! Rochelle Lieber has some stuff on the morphology of those structures, but nowhere near as exuberantly expressed...

Loving-it-all-the-way-to-the-library!

it looks like manny likes doing all-the-agglutination-stuff

An astute observation Eleonora.

It would seem so. Here's the response to a recent post I made to the Languse list. (Although it wasn't my intention to fish for these constructions it shows that if you use the right sort of bait, it's possible to land a big fish):


"I forwarded Joe's question to Manny Schegloff. Here is his short reply.
-Gene"

'Gene Lerner has conveyed to me a hotline inquiry "...if anyone could shed some light on how the 'principle' of 'recipient design' came into usage (particularly with regards to early mentions of this concept)..."'

"....... To which Harvey replied, "Oh, that's interesting," -- a thing each of us would recurrently say to the other after the other had said something matter-of factly that struck the other as newsworthy. We spent the next hour or two talking about that -- about how "designing-the-talk-for-the- current recipient" would have to figure in subsequent work, before turning to the work we had planned to do that afternoon. ......"

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