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An Interdisciplinary Journal of the Language Sciences

Editor-in-Chief: Gast, Volker

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Volume 45, Issue 4


Syntactic direction and obviation as empathy-based phenomena: a typological approach

David Y Oshima
Published Online: 2007-07-31 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/LING.2007.022


In previous studies, various syntactic/semantic factors (person hierarchy, animacy, topicality, etc.) have been discussed as relevant to linguistic phenomena known as syntactic direction and nominal obviation. This article develops and motivates a uniform analysis of the direct/inverse and obviation marking (DIO-marking), based on the (extended) theory of linguistic empathy. Drawing on data from four languages that belong to different families (Cree, Navajo, Jinghpaw, and Japanese), I discuss that the empathy-based approach (i) provides a uniform analysis of DIO-systems in different languages, as well as the yaru/kureru opposition in Japanese, which have been believed to be controlled by different sets of syntactic/semantic factors, and (ii) dispenses with construction-specific rules/constraints such as the person constraint, the possessive constraint, and the ban on multiple proximates within a clause. I also demonstrate that the empathy-based account allows us to model similarities/contrasts among DIO-systems in a comprehensive way, reducing crosslinguistic differences into two planes: (i) the plane of E-marking: how and to what extent empathy relations are encoded, and (ii) the plane of E-ranking: what factors affect (more) empathy relations.

About the article

*Correspondence address: International Student Center, Ibaraki University, Mito-shi Bunkyo 2-1-1, Ibaraki 310-8512, Japan.

Received: 2004-03-16

Revised: 2005-03-30

Published Online: 2007-07-31

Published in Print: 2007-07-20

Citation Information: Linguistics, Volume 45, Issue 4, Pages 727–763, ISSN (Online) 1613-396X, ISSN (Print) 0024-3949, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/LING.2007.022.

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