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Epistemicity, social identity and politeness marking: A pragmatic analysis of Bajjika verbal inflections

Abhishek Kumar Kashyap and Foong Ha Yap
From the journal Linguistics


This article examines the pragmatic uses of the verbal inflections in Bajjika, a Bihari language within the “eastern” group of the Indo-Aryan family. Previous studies have shown that Bajjika has a very complex system of verb-agreement, which is typical of Bihari languages but atypical of other Indo-Aryan languages. Of particular interest here is that Bajjika allows a maximum of two person-agreement slots in its verbal morphology: the first slot for markers that co-index with nominative participants, and the second slot for those markers that co-index with non-nominative participants as well as third person referents that are outside the discourse context (cf. Kashyap 2012, The pragmatic principles of agreement in Bajjika verbs. Journal of Pragmatics 44(13). 1868−1887). Our analysis, based on conversational data of Bajjika, reveals that the person-agreement system in Bajjika also registers the social standing of the interlocutors and third person referents along factors reflecting social hierarchy (e.g., age, rank, profession, and social class). Additionally, the non-nominative person-agreement markers (involving second and third but not first person reference) combine with future tense markers to yield epistemic effects (e.g., pragmatic softening or hedging) that contribute to the negotiation of face-needs among discourse participants and discourse referents. These findings have implications for the relationship between deictic elements (e.g., tense and person-agreement markers) and politeness strategies, and may shed light on the pragmatic uses of verbal inflections in other Bihari languages as well as other languages with verbal morphology that encode deictic information.


The research presented in this article was funded by The Hong Kong Polytechnic University for the following two projects: (i) Evidentiality, Epistemicity and Politeness Marking: A Crosslinguistic Perspective (Project No: HKPU G-UB76) and (ii) Addressee-oriented Agreement Marking and Politeness in East Indo-Aryan Languages (Project No. HKPU G-YBGG).


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Appendix. Abbreviations

1first personimpimperative
2second personinfinfinitive
3third personintinterrogative
agr1nominative agreementloclocative
agr2non-nominative agreementmmale
benbenefactivenfutnon-future tense
compcomplementnhnon- honorific
focfocuspnproper name
futfuture tenseprogprogressive
gengenitiveprspresent tense
habhabitualpstpast tense
Published Online: 2017-3-21
Published in Print: 2017-5-24

© 2017 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

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