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Linguistics Vanguard

A Multimodal Journal for the Language Sciences

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Directionals, episodic structure, and geographic information systems: Area/punctual distinctions in Ahtna travel narration

Andrea L. Berez
Published Online: 2015-01-05 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/lingvan-2014-1004

Abstract

Interest in the past decades in the way spatial cognition manifests in language has led to a growing body of literature on the topic. The concurrent development of user-friendly geographic information systems (GIS) software can give linguists new perspectives on spatial language, especially narratives describing geographic landscapes, by allowing the researcher access to those landscapes in a way that was previously only available by visiting the region in person. In this paper, I discuss how the use of GIS reveals that Ahtna speakers use subtle distinctions in the directional system to structure discourse about overland travel into narrative episodes. Ahtna is an Athabascan language spoken in the Copper River area of southcentral Alaska by about 35 native speakers.

This article offers supplementary material which is provided at the end of the article.

Keywords: Ahtna; directionals; discourse; mapping; travel narration

1 Introduction

Interest in the past decades in the way spatial cognition manifests in language has led to a growing body of literature on the topic (e.g. Levinson 2003; Levinson and Wilkins 2006; Senft 1997; among many others). The concurrent development of user-friendly geographic information systems (GIS) software can give linguists new perspectives on spatial language, especially narratives describing geographic landscapes, by allowing the researcher access to those landscapes in a way that was previously only available by visiting the region in person. In this paper, I discuss how the use of GIS reveals that Ahtna speakers use subtle distinctions in the directional system to structure discourse about overland travel into narrative episodes. Ahtna is an Athabascan language spoken in the Copper River area of southcentral Alaska by about 35 native speakers.

Below I provide background information on Ahtna directionals. In Section 2 I present the data and discuss the methods used in the following sections. In Sections 35 I describe the particular narrative-structuring functions of two of the directional suffixes. Section 6 contains concluding remarks.

1.1 Directionals in Ahtna

Like other Athabascan languages, Ahtna is a fusional, polysynthetic language that has a distinct lexical class of directionals. Kari (1985, 1990, 2008, 2010) analyzes the Ahtna directionals as having a tripartite morphemic structure: a stem expressing orientation (a system that is largely, but not completely, riverine), an optional prefix expressing relative distance or concepts like ‘straight’, ‘adjacent to’, etc.; and an optional suffix that expresses either a punctual vs. area distinction or an allative vs. ablative distinction (see Kari 1985, 1990, 2008, 2010; Leer 1989; Moore and Tlen 2007) This is shown in Table 1.

PrefixesStemsSuffixes
da- proxnae’ ‘upriver, behind’-eall
na- meddaa’ ‘downriver’-dzeabl
’u- distngge’ ‘from water, upland’-tpunc
ts’i- ‘straight, directly’tsen ‘toward water, lowland’-xuarea
ka- ‘adjacent’naan ‘across’
P+gha- ‘from P’tgge’ ‘up vertically’
n- ‘neutral’igge’, yax ‘down vertically’
hw- area’an ‘away, off’
nse’ ‘ahead’
Table 1

Tripartite morphemic structure of Ahtna directionals (from Kari 1990)

Directionals can appear either as unaffixed stems, or as derived forms via affixation, with the considerable morphophonemics that is typical of fusional Athabascan polysynthesis. Examples of affixed directionals are given in (1).1

(1)
Examples of affixed directionals
’udaa’a’utsenenana
dist.downriver.alldist.downland.allmed.across
‘toward distantly‘toward distantly‘intermediately across’
downriver’downland’
niidzedunse’’unggat
upriver.ablprox.aheaddist.upland.punc
‘from upriver’‘near ahead’‘a point distantly upland’
’utsiit’uyggu’unuuxe
dist.downland.puncdist.down.areadist.upriver.area
‘a point distantly‘an area distantly vertically‘an area distantly upriver’
downland’down’

1.2 The punctual and area suffixes

We turn now to the two suffixes from Table 1 that are at the core of this study, the punctual suffix -t and the area suffix -xu. Together these two make what could be called a boundedness distinction in directionals. The first of these two, -t ‘punctual’, does not refer to punctual verbal aspect, but rather creates bounded locations in space, or ‘points’ which can ostensibly be found in the direction of the directional stem. The sense here is that the location is conceived of as having a clear physical boundary, and this clearly-bounded area can refer to a physical, three-dimensional object (e.g. a glacier) or a two-dimensional demarcation of space much like a county line on a map (e.g. the land between the confluence of two rivers). Two examples are shown in (1), ’unggat ‘a point distantly upland, and ’utsiit ‘a point distantly downland;’ naturally many more are possible within the directional paradigm. An example of this suffix creating a bounded location in discourse is found in (2), where xanggat ‘a point adjacently upland refers to a specific place (i.e. one used for camping).

(2)
Use of punctual directional suffix -t
180Ghayetta,
in.relation.tothereamong
(1.6)
181ts’eneyełts’enyexanggat,
1pl.sub.camp.imperffromthereadjacent.upland.punc
‘[by] there, we would camp at the next place upland.’
((Katie John, Nataeł Nenn’ ‘The Batzulnetas Country’, 00:06:56.060–00:07:00.110. Kari 2010: 85))

Directionals containing the suffix -xuarea’, on the other hand, denote regions or fuzzy-bounded regions without a clear boundary (e.g. a highlands or a hunting grounds). The example in (3),’utggu ‘an area distantly up’ is just one of many potential directionals with this suffix.

(3)
Use of area directional suffix -x
198Udzihcu’utgguutak’a.
cariboualso, elsedist.up.areainterspersed
‘Caribou also [in an area distantly up] above there were interspersed.’
((Adam Sanford, C’uka Ts’ul’aen’i gha Nen’ Ta’stedeł dze’ ‘How We Went Hunting Out in the Country’, 00:07:06.700–00:07:21.070. Kari 2010: 100))

2 The current study: data and methodology

2.1 Data: Ahtna travel narration and database of named locations

Work on spatial reference in Ahtna and Athabascan (e.g. Berez 2011a; Kari 1985, 1990, 2008, 2010; Busch 2000) has long recognized that multiple grammatical systems work in concert to provide multiple resources for describing spatial concepts. Ahtna speakers have many opportunities to talk about space, direction, and overland travel across the landscape, as Ahtna society is traditionally semi-nomadic. Hunters and family groups traveled seasonally in pursuit of resources like fish and big game (Reckord 1979, 1983a, 1983b). Knowledge of the surrounding terrain is not only essential to survival but also plays an important role in ethnic identity and the assertion of the connection of one’s social group (tribe, band, family) to the land, much like Moore and Tlen (2007) found for Athabascan speakers in the Yukon. Individual Ahtna men – and some women – are often intimately familiar with large swaths of the 35,000 square miles of Ahtna territory and beyond, a feat all the more impressive for having been undertaken on foot or by dogsled.

The importance of geographic knowledge and ‘travel talk’ is reflected in the sheer size of the corpus of Ahtna place names (Kari 1983, 2008). The corpus contains over 2,200 names, many of which are documented in a genre of oral literature that Kari terms elite travel narratives. These narratives are a “virtual guided tour” in which the speaker discusses, in sequential order, all the meaningful and hence named locations along a given route. A single narrative may cover over one hundred miles of river and/or trail and is interspersed with personal memories and descriptions of how each site was used seasonally for camping and hunting (for published examples of Ahtna travel narratives see Kari 1986, 2010; Kari and Fall 2003).

(4) contains a brief excerpt from a travel narrative by Mrs. Katie John (Kari 2010), describing a route intraditional Ahtna territory between the Nabesna River and Pass Creek found roughly between 62.664°, –144.700°; 62.665°, –143.510°; 62.092°, –142.837°; and 62.140°, –143.721°; shown in Figure 1. The passage in (4) comes from a larger story about a dogsled trip to Copper Glacier and in the area north of Mount Wrangell in southcentral Alaska.2

(4)
Example of a travel narrative
212YiiJack-,
3s.nhaban
(0.7)
213tsighe-,
aban
214Tsic’ełggodi Na’tsents’ets’edeł.
indef.sub.rock.chip.caus.rel.riverdownland1pl.sub.pl.go.imperf.out
‘Jack...there at ‘rock is chipped’ creek’ we come out to the lowlands.’
(1.3)
215Yets’e’utsiidzeyet,
there.fromdist.downland.ablthere
(2.4)
216Ts’iłten’ Kats’etses Na’keniide
bow.1pl.sub.move.flexible.o.imperf.up.river3pl.sub.say.imperf.where
yetxu’aadzetakanats’edełdze’.
therearea.other.side.fromamong1pl.sub.pl.go.imperf.up.iterthus
‘From there from [distantly] lowland (the Nabesna R.) to where they call ‘welift up a bow creek’ (Pass Creek), we come back up from the other side.’
((Katie John, Nataeł Nenn’ ‘The Batzulnetas Country’, 00:07:57.800–00:08:10.620, Kari 2010: 84–85))

In this brief excerpt, the journey starts at a location known as Tsic’ełggodi Na’ ‘rock is chipped creek’, shown as X in Figure 1. From there, the protagonists move to the lowlands (lines 212–214), then distantly downland to Ts’iłten’ Kats’etses Na’ ‘we lift up a bow creek (Pass Creek)’ and back up, eventually reaching the Nabesna River. Note the use of directionals in this passage (tsen ‘downland’ in line 214 and ’utsiidze ‘to distantly downland’ in line 215).

Route described in (4)
Figure 1

Route described in (4)

2.2 Questions of interpretation

While (4) is a relatively simple passage to follow, spatial and directional reference in travel narratives can be quite complex, as speakers have not only the multimorphemic directionals at their fingertips, but also a range of grammatical and referential tools for describing locations and spatial relationships: adverbial verb prefixes, demonstratives, postpositional phrases, and a rich toponymic system. As an example of the complexity of directional reference in discourse, consider (5), another excerpt from a travel narrative by Mr. Sanford. The passage describes a travel route along the Sanford River in an upriver trajectory toward the headwaters. Directionals are bolded.

(5)
Use of directionals in a travel narrative
46Du’yihwts’en,
there.area.from
(0.2)
47ts’inats’edełdze’’unggeh,
1pl.sub.pl.go.imperf.from.iterthusdist.upland.all
‘From there, then we would start out to uplands.’
(0.8)
48’utggudaaghangge’,
dist.up.areaabove.timberlineupland
(1.7)
49nggaTs’itaeł Tl’aahwts’e’,
upland.puncriver.flows.straight.headwatersarea.to
‘Up above the treeline upland to ‘headwaters of river that flows straight’ (Sanford River headwaters),’
(1.9)
50yihwts’en’unggat,
there.area.fromdist.upland.punc
(1.6)
51Tsaani ’Aeł Na’,
bear.trap.river
(0.6)
52yetkets’edeł.
there1pl.sub.pl.go.imperf.against.a.place
‘from there on upland we reached ‘bear trap creek’.’
((Adam Sanford, C’uka Ts’ul’aen’i gha Nen’ Ta’stedeł dze’ ‘How We Went Hunting Out in the Country’, 00:01:45.390–00:01:59.290. Kari 2010: 93))

The region discussed in the excerpt is shown in Figure 2. In this passage, Mr. Sanford references three locations: the first by the deictic demonstrative pronominal prefix yi- ‘there’ in line 46 that is coreferential with a previously named location, Natii Na’ (map point a), and two locations by their Ahtna toponyms Ts’itaeł Tl’aa ‘headwaters of river that flows straight’ (line 49, map point b) and Tsaani ’Aeł Na’ ‘bear trap creek’ (line 51, map point c). Note that the locations are all on the Sanford River, as we would expect in a narrative about river travel.

Note as well the rich spatial language used in the excerpt in (5) to move the story from place to place. Considering only the directionals, Mr. Sanford uses five based on the stem ngge’ ‘upland’ alone: ’unggeh ‘to distantly upland’ in line 47, ’utggu ‘an area distantly up’ and ngge’ ‘upland’ in line 48, ngga ‘a point upland’ in line 49, and ’unggat ‘a point distantly upland’ in line 50. Other spatial grammar here includes postpositions (lines 46, 49, and 50), adverbial verb prefixes (lines 47 and 52), deictic demonstratives (lines 50 and52) and toponyms (lines 49 and 51).

Area described in (5)
Figure 2

Area described in (5)

Despite the richness of spatial description in this passage – or perhaps because of it – questions arise about how to interpret it, especially when the listener is not familiar with the locations named. We already know that Mr. Sanford’s narrative follows the course of the Sanford River, and that in general, travel narrators discuss locations in the order in which they are encountered on a journey. Why, then, does Mr. Sanford name these three locations “out of order”? In this narrative about travel toward the Sanford River headwaters he mentions Ts’itaeł Tl’aa before he mentions Tsaani ’Aeł Na’, although the former is upriver of the latter. What role, if any, does the directional morphology play in the interpretation of the story? It cannot be assumed that all listeners are as familiar with the geography of the Sanford River as Mr. Sanford was, since not everyone in the Ahtna community would have traveled this route. The answer, it turns out, lies at least in part in the subtle but important roles the punctual and area directional suffixes play in structuring the overall narrative.

2.3 Methodology

2.3.1 Travel narrative data

The data examined here come from three travel narratives found in Kari (2010). The first is from Mr.Adam Sanford’s narrative C’uka ts’ulaen’i gha nen’ ta’stedeł dze’ ‘how we went hunting out in the country’ (Kari 2010: 91–128). The second narrative is an Upper Ahtna dialect narrative by Katie John,known as Nataeł Nenn’ ‘Batzulnetas country’ (Kari 2010: 74–89). The third narrative is Jake Tansy’s Saen tah xay tah c’a łu’sghideł ‘we used to travel around in summer and winter’ (Kari 2010: 59–69).

2.3.2 Mapping the narratives

Because we know the communicative goal of Ahtna travel narration is to accurately describe routes of travel through real locations in Ahtna territory, we can use the Alaska landscape itself as semantic evidence for the role of the suffixes.3 To this end, this paper relies heavily upon geographic information systems (GIS) technology and Kari’s (2008) database of more than 2,200 georeferenced Ahtna toponyms. The database is the product of over three decades of Kari’s work with Ahtna speakers to collect, map, and verify the geographic coordinates and names of locations both inside and outside of Ahtna territory, and it represents the most comprehensive geographic database for any language in Alaska. Kari generously provided the digital version of the database to me, which I uploaded to Google Earth Pro software.4 Using the mapped toponyms and the travel narrative texts as a guide, I then mapped the routes described in the three narratives in the Google Earth Pro interface. The .kmz file that is the result of this process is included as an attachment to this article; click here to download. This mapping allows us to visualize how the directionals, including affixation, are being used. Is it crucial to note, however, that the Kari database has locations mapped only as points even when in reality it would have been better to map them as polygons, lines, and fuzzy-bounded areas; furthermore in some cases it is difficult to discern the exact path of travel. Therefore, map paths are intended to be for reference only, rather than a claim of an exact route used by Ahtna people.5 An overview of the regions covered by all three narratives is shown in Figure 3, and individual routes are shown in Figures 46.

Overview of travel routes described in the three narratives: Mr. Sanford (blue), Mrs. John (yellow), and Mr. Tansy (pink)
Figure 3

Overview of travel routes described in the three narratives: Mr. Sanford (blue), Mrs. John (yellow), and Mr. Tansy (pink)

Route described by Mr. Sanford
Figure 4

Route described by Mr. Sanford

Route described by Mrs. John
Figure 5

Route described by Mrs. John

Route described by Mr. Tansy
Figure 6

Route described by Mr. Tansy

3 Discourse use of the punctual suffix -t

We have seen in Section 1.2 that the punctual suffix -t creates bounded locations found in the direction indicated by the directional stem. These bounded locations can then be employed by speakers in discourse, where they serve as the ground on which referents and actions are located. In this sense the directionals have an inherent discourse function, and this function is clear when we consider some examples from the travel narratives.

Directionals containing the punctual suffix overwhelmingly co-occur with toponyms or definite locational nouns. While not every toponym is preceded by a directional containing the punctual suffix, nearly every instance of a directional containing the punctual suffix is followed by a toponym. Of the 34 punctual directionals in the data, 28 (82.3%) of them occur within one line of a toponym or locational noun, with most of them immediately preceding the toponym or directional noun. These bounded locations become the site of some kind of action; for example in (6a) ’unggat ‘a point distantly upland’ helps define the glacier as the point at which the hunters described in the story stayed for the night; in (6b) ’unggat occurs with the toponym Xoos Ghadl Zdlaa, which defines the point from which the hunting team would set out; in (6c) ’utsii ‘a point distantly downland’ defines the location of the trailheads.

(6)

Discourse use of punctual suffix -t

(a)

Download Audio:mp3 m4a

68’Unggatłuugha,
dist.upland.puncglacierin.relation.to
(0.2)
69na-,
aban
(4.0)
70yetk’a’sdelts’iix,
thereemph1pl.sub.pl.sit/stay.imperf
‘At an upland place there we stayed right by the glacier.’
((Adam Sanford, C’uka Ts’ul’aen’i gha Nen’ Ta’stedeł dze’ ‘How We Went Hunting Out in the Country’, 00:02:34.880–00:02:41.490. Kari 2010: 95))
(b)
73’Unggat,
dist.upland.punc
(0.2)
74Xoos Ghadl Zdlaakeniideyedanggasts’enta,
horse.wagon.exist3pl.sub.say.imperf.wherethereprox.upland.sideamong
(0.6)
75xonadanggehdzedae’tic’akedeł.
thenprox.upland.fromthus3pl.sub.pl.go.imperf.out.into.the.woods
‘Up at where they call it ‘horse wagons are there’ there then they would go out into the country to the upland side or from the uplands.’
((Katie John, Nataeł Nenn’ ‘The Batzulnetas Country’, 00:02:50.910–00:02:58.240. Kari 2010: 77))
(c)
37’UtsiiNataełdehwts’enk’a,
dist.downland.puncroasted.salmon.placearea.fromemph
38’utsiidzetenekulaendze’.
dist.downland.abltrailexistthus
‘From downland at ‘roasted salmon place’ (Batzulnetas Village) there are trails coming up from the lowlands.’
((Katie John, Nataeł Nenn’ ‘The Batzulnetas Country’, 00:01:25.490–00:01:28.690. Kari 2010: 76))

That directionals containing the punctual suffix -t so frequently co-occur with a toponym is significant in the travel narrative genre, where they also take on a role in structuring the overall narrative, extending their spatial reading to correspond to the episodic nature of the story. Like many kinds of narrative (Longacre 1983; Labov and Waletsky 1967), travel narratives are structured into episodes, which Martin (1994: 135) describes as “The story […] is organized into episodes that describe sequences of states and events related to the narrative main line. Each episode contains a peak event […]” (Martin 1994: 135). In the travel narratives, these narrative episodes correspond to legs of a physical journey.

Consider the structure of a typical travel narrative episode: the speaker names a location – usually by its Ahtna toponym accompanied by a directional containing the -t suffix – and then talks about what happened there, usually a description of actions (the peak event), but often background information or commentary (cf. the peak events of the episodes in (6)). The speaker then moves to the next location in the journey, again usually using a toponym plus a directional containing the -t suffix, and thus the next narrative episode in which new actions are described. Thus the location-defining spatial function of the suffix not only defines physical locations of actions in the story, but also marks the transition from one discourse episode to the next. The toponym/locational noun + punctual construction serves to move the story forward, through space and also through time. Figure 7 illustrates this pattern.

Correspondence of narrative episodes and journey legs
Figure 7

Correspondence of narrative episodes and journey legs

4 Discourse use of the area Suffix -xu

Recall from Section 1.2 that the area suffix -xu (and its allomorph -eh) serves to create fuzzy-bounded regions. However, like the punctual suffix, the area suffix also has a role in structuring discourse. Whereas the punctual suffix -t is described above as segmenting both the discourse into episodes and the physical journey into legs, the area suffix -xu can be used to demarcate a main line of the narrative; that is, a larger unit in the narrative that is composed of a series of smaller episodes. And just as episodes correspond with short legs of the journey, the main line demarked with the area suffix -xu corresponds to longer physical journeys; perhaps the distance covered in a single day, or the distance between separate trap lines, or all the locations visited on a single river.

Example (7) shows the area suffix being used in this way. The excerpt starts at the end of one journey, a location called Łedidlende where she describes hunting for sheep in lines 190–192. The next journey begins in line 193 with yihwts’en xona ‘from there then’. Note the use of the area suffix in danggeh ‘an area proximally upland’ in line 193.

(7)

Discourse use of area suffix to create episodes

Download Audio:mp3 m4a

190Łedidlendeyettaxona,
streams.join.wherethereamongthen
(1.8)
191debaekeghiixdze’.
sheep3pl.sub.kill.pl.o.imperfthus
192Yiidebae’ełyet’sdelts’iix.
3s.nhsheepwith, andthere1pl.sub.pl.sit/stay.imperf
‘They killed sheep there then at ‘where streams join’. We stayed there with that sheep.’
(0.8)
193Yihwts’enxonadanggehta,
there.area.fromthenprox.upland.areaamong
(1.6)
194c’ena’,
indef.poss.river
(1.0)
195ngge’takets’edełyiyaxungge’,
uplandamong1pl.sub.pl.go.imperf.against.a.placethusdemarea.upland
(1.6)
196kecdilaade.
indef.clf.pl.o.areaadvz.temp.spatial
‘From there then in the uplands, as we go on upland, and there are names in the uplands there.’
(1.9)
197Ts’akae,
woman
(0.3)
198Ts’akae Ggan Nats’iłbaał
woman.small.1pl.sub.move.attached.to.rope.perf.caus.down
keniideye,
3pl.sub.say.imperf.wherethere
199xuhkets’udełdze’.
area1pl.sub.pl.go.imperf.against.a.placethus
(0.7)
200Yexanggatdamen,
thereadjacent.upland.puncpol.qlake
(1.8)
201Men Niłgha’aa Delyaade,
lakes.connected.together
‘Where they call ‘the thin lady was lowered on a rope’, they pass by there and the lakes up there, ‘lakes connected together’.’
202ghayexu’enn’cukats’edełdze’.
in.relation.totherearea.other.sidealso, else1pl.sub.pl.go.imperf.upthus
‘There we go up over to the other side also (to the Nabesna R. drainage).’
(1.3)
203Yexu’enxona,
therearea.other.sidethen
204Tsi-,
aban
205Tsic’ełggodi Tl’aakeniide,
indef.sub.chip.caus.rock.rel.headwater3pl.sub.say.imperf.where
206yekets’edeł.
there1pl.sub.pl.go.imperf.against.a.place
‘There over to ‘rock is chipped headwaters’ (Jacksina Creek headwaters) we came to there.’
207Tsic’ełggodikeniidede,
indef.sub.rock.chip.caus.rel3pl.sub.say.imperf.wherewhere
208’adii du’,
now
209Jacksina,
J.
(0.3)
210Nondlae’iinn,
white.personpl.hum
(0.6)
211Jacksinakehdił’aan.
J.3pl.sub.give.p.name.perf.area
‘Where they now call ‘rock is chipped’ the white people have named the place Jacksina.’
(1.1)
212YiiJack-,
3s.nhaban
(0.7)
213tsighe-,
aban
214Tsic’ełggodi Na’tsents’ets’edeł.
indef.sub.rock.chip.caus.rel.riverdownland1pl.sub.pl.go.imperf.out
‘Jack...there at ‘rock is chipped’ creek’ we come out to the lowlands.’
(1.3)
215Yets’e’utsiidzeyet,
there.fromdist.downland.ablthere
‘From there, from the lowlands […]’
((Katie John, Nataeł Nenn’ ‘The Batzulnetas Country’, 00:07:13.650–00:08:04.280.Kari 2010: 84–85))

In line 193, Mrs. John uses the directional danggeh ‘an area proximally upland to move the journey into the uplands above Łedidlende. However, she is not simply preparing to describe the next upland location; rather, she is planning to discuss all the names in the greater upland area – the narrative main line – which she indicates in lines 195–196 by saying yi ya xungge’ kecdilaa de ‘there are names in the upland there.’ Using danggehprox.upland.area’ in line 193 serves to let the listener know that she has the entire region in mind, not just the next single location.

The next 25 lines consist of Mrs. John listing, in order, the named locations in the uplands: Ts’akae Ggan Nats’iłbaał (line 198), Men Niłgha’aa Delyade (line 201), Tsic’ełggodi Tl’aa (line 205), and Ts’icełggodi (line 207). This journey ends in line 214 at Ts’icełggodi Na’, leaving the uplands and heading into the lowlands (tsen ‘downland’). The next journey begins in line 215 with yets’e… ‘from there’.

This discourse use of the area suffix in line 193 also has an allative connotation. When combined with yihwts’en xona ‘from there then’ in line 192, the area suffix on danggeh ‘an area proximally upland tells the listener that the eventual destination is the upland region although no overt allative marker is used. This demarcates the entire upland region as the next major journey, which contains a number of smaller legs, from one individually named location to the next (shown in Figure 8). At the same time, this use of the area suffix also unites the following discourse as a series of episodes relating to one larger discourse structure.

Full journey and journey legs described in (7)
Figure 8

Full journey and journey legs described in (7)

5 Discussion: discourse patterning of both suffixes

Speakers also have the option of combining the discourse uses of the punctual and area suffixes described above. In the striking example in (8), Mr. Sanford uses the area suffix to demarcate the major journey leg he is about to describe with a major discourse episode, and then uses the punctual suffix to mark the smaller journey legs and episodes within the larger story main line. In this excerpt, Mr. Sanford is describing the journey from Ben Tah (mentioned 18 lines earlier) all the way to the region above the timberline near Tsidghaazi Tl’aa on the ridge of Mount Sanford.

(8)

Episodes and narrative main lines marked with directional suffixes

Download Audio:mp3 m4a

130Du’,
emph
131yehwts’en,
there.area.from
(0.8)
132yenae’ts’enaes’utggudaaghe
thereupriver1pl.sub.travel.nomadically.imperfdist.up.areatimberline
nae’k’e.
upriveron
‘From there we started out upstream to [an area distantly up] above the timberline on the upstream.’
133Kaniit,
adjacent.upriver.punc
(1.0)
134Una’ Tuu Koley Na’,
3s.poss.river.water.exist.neg.river
(1.3)
135yehwk’enats’etnaes.
like.that1pl.sub.travel.nomadically.imperf.iter
‘The next place upriver we went back to ‘its creek has no water creek’.’
[11 IUs about Una’ Tuu Koley Na’ omitted].
148Duu yehwts’enxona’uniit,
there.area.fromthendist.upriver.punc
(0.7)
149Saas Dzełk’et,
sand.mountainon
(0.4)
150ninats’etnaes.
1pl.sub.move.nomadically.imperf.termin.iter
‘From there, then we would stop again upriver at ‘sand mountain’.’
151’Utggattes ghak’aay.
dist.up.punchill mountain.ridge
(1.5)
152((COUGH))Yetninats’etnaes.
there1pl.sub.move.nomadically.imperf.termin.iter
‘Up on the flank of a hill we would stop.’
152Tseles.
ground.squirrel
(0.8)
154Tselesghayetnits’enaes.
ground.squirrelin.relation.tothere1pl.sub.move.nomadically.imperf.termin
‘Ground squirrels, we stopped there for ground squirrels.’
[19 IUs about hunting ground squirrels at the hill at Saas Dzeł omitted]
173Du’,
emph
174xonaTsidghaazi Tl’aa,
thenrock.that.is.rough.headwaters
‘Then to ‘rough rock headwaters’.’
((Adam Sanford, C’uka Ts’ul’aen’i gha Nen’ Ta’stedeł dze’‘How We Went Hunting Out in the Country’,00:04:56.410–00:06:24.340. Kari 2010: 97–99))

In line 132, Mr. Sanford uses ’utggu daaghe ‘timberline area distantly up’ to indicate that the next portion of the journey – the major journey and the narrative main line – will eventually reach the higher elevations above the timberline. These first lines serve to demarcate the next major leg of the journey, as well as the main line of the narrative (i.e. the trip to above the timberline at Tsidghaazi Tl’aa).

Mr. Sanford follows this demarcation of the main journey with the first leg of that journey, from the region around Ben Tah to Una’ Tuu Koley Na’. Note that this place name is introduced with a directional containing the punctual -t in kaniit a point adjacently upriver in line 133. He then talks about caribou hunting at Una’ Tuu Koley Na’ for eleven lines before moving to the next leg, the journey to Saas Dzeł. This location is also marked with a directional containing the punctual suffix, ’uniit ‘a point distantly upriver’ in line 148. He then pinpoints his location at Saas Dzeł even more finely in line 151 and 152 as being ’utggat tes ghak’aay ‘hill mountain ridge point distantly up’ or ‘up on the flank of a hill’. After 21 lines about hunting ground squirrels around Saas Dzeł, the next leg is to Tsidghaazi Tl’aa, the region above the timberline on the ridge of Mount Sanford. The main journey and its subdivisions into smaller legs are shown in Figure 9.

Full journey and journey legs described in (8)
Figure 9

Full journey and journey legs described in (8)

Figure 10 is a diagram of the episodes and narrative main line in the discourse showing the suffixes used to name each location. Now we can see how this speaker is using both suffixes together to structure the discourse.

Narrative main line and episodes in (8)
Figure 10

Narrative main line and episodes in (8)

In this analysis, we can finally make sense of (5), reprinted as (9), the passage in which Mr. Sanford seems to describe his journey “out of order” discussed in Section 2.2. The region described in (9) is depicted in Figure 2.

(9)

Use of directionals in travel narrative (repeated from (5))

Download Audio:mp3 m4a

46Du’yihwts’en,
there.area.from
(0.2)
47ts’inats’edełdze’’unggeh,
1pl.sub.pl.go.imperf.from.iterthusdist.upland.all
‘From there, then we would start out to uplands.’
(0.8)
48’utggudaaghangge’,
dist.up.areaabove.timberlineupland
(1.7)
49nggaTs’itaeł Tl’aahwts’e’,
upland.puncriver.flows.straight.headwatersarea.to
‘Up above the treeline upland to ‘headwaters of river that flows straight’ (Sanford River headwaters),’
(1.9)
50yihwts’en ’unggat,
there.area.fromdist.upland.punc
(1.6)
51Tsaani ’Aeł Na’,
bear.trap.river
(0.6)
52yetkets’edeł.
there1pl.sub.pl.go.imperf.against.a.place
‘from there on upland we reached ‘bear trap creek’.’
((Adam Sanford, C’uka Ts’ul’aen’i gha Nen’ Ta’stedeł dze’ ‘How We Went Hunting Out in the Country’, 00:01:45.390–00:01:59.290. Kari 2010: 93))

Mr. Sanford begins this excerpt in lines 46–47 by talking about going to the uplands using a directional marked with the allative suffix -e(h) in ’unggeh ‘to distantly upland’. In the next line he uses the area suffix to do the now familiar work of laying out his entire journey in the direction of the timberline using ’uttgu ‘an area distantly up’, which he then specifies in line 49 as near the location called Ts’itaeł Tl’aa. Looking at Figure 11, we can see that the destination for this leg is quite far from its source at Natii Na’, and that a number of named locations along the Sanford River intervene. In lines 50–52, Mr. Sanford names the first of these locations, Tsaani ’Aeł Na’, using a directional ’unggat ‘point distantly upland’ marked with the punctual suffix.

This is in fact only the first leg of a series of journey legs between Natii Na’ and the timberline around Ts’itaeł Tl’aa. This main journey spans approximately 60 lines of text and is comprised of eight sequential legs. This larger journey, which represents a narrative main line in the story (nearly half of Mr. Sanford’s entire narrative), ends with the excerpt found in (10), in which Mr. Sanford describes finally arriving at the last named location, Dit’ox Tl’aa, and moving into the canyon at Ts’itaeł Tl’aa (although Ts’itaeł Tl’aa is not mentioned by name). The entire journey is shown in Figure 11.

(10)

End of journey initiated in (9)

Download Audio:mp3 m4a

95((COUGH))Dit’ox Tl’aats’e’,
3s.refl.poss.nest.headwatersto
(1.1)
96Dit’ox Tl’aats’e’kats’enaes you know.
3s.refl.poss.nest.headwatersttopl.sub.move.nomadically.imperf.up
‘To ‘nest headwaters’, we would move to ‘nest headwaters’.’
97Big glacier there you know.
(0.3)
98Dit’ox Tl’aa.
3s.refl.poss.nest.headwaters
(1.5)
99Du’,
(0.2)
100yiicuts’edelts’iixdebaegha,
3s.nhalso1pl.sub.sit/stay.imperfsheepin.relation.to
‘We stayed there at ‘nest headwaters’ by the sheep.’
101Sesyaann’,
ram
102sesyaann’yaen’una’c’ilaen.
ramonly3s.poss.riverbe, be born
‘There are rams, only rams on that creek.’
(1.5)
103Yiits’eghaaxxona.
3s.nh1pl.sub.kill.pl.o.imperfthen
(0.3)
104Yiikaeyet’sdalts’iix
3s.nhinstrthere1pl.sub.sit/stay.imperf
‘We killed some and we stayed there on that.’
(1.1)
105K’axonayethwts’enxona
emphthentherefrom.areathen
na’stetnaesi,
1pl.sub.travel.nomadically.imperf.iter.rel
(2.2)
106ohhdahwtnełdak.
area.sub.be.steep.imperf
‘Then as we moved back from there, oh it (the canyon) was steep.’
(0.6)
107Niłk’aedze’dahwtnełdakxona.
recip.cavity.advzarea.sub.be.steep.imperfthen
(0.6)
108Saanetahkats’enaes.
barely1pl.sub.move.nomadically.imperf.up
‘It was steep on both sides, and then we could barely move up.’
((Adam Sanford, C’uka Ts’ul’aen’i gha Nen’ Ta’stedeł dze’ ‘How We Went Hunting Out in the Country’, 00:03:38.300–00:04:06.320. Kari 2010: 96))
Route from Natii Na’ to Ts’itaeł Na’
Figure 11

Route from Natii Na’ to Ts’itaeł Na’

6 Conclusion

We have seen that Ahtna speakers can expand the function of the directional suffixes to help create structure within the travel narrative. Speakers use the punctual suffix to announce the location of the next episode, and the area suffix to presage the ending location of the entire journey. This pathway from lexical function to discourse function makes sense: the next episode and next location in a narrative are the object of the speaker’s immediate attention. Delineating them as the ground for the actions of the protagonists is important, and so it makes sense that speakers would conceive of these locations as more punctual and from their surroundings than other locations. It is “nextness” that is being highlighted here, a location specifically picked out of the landscape as the site of the next episode.

Likewise, the use of the area suffix to mark a destination that, while it is the eventual goal and therefore noteworthy enough to mention, is still not as delineated from its surroundings as the site of the next immediate event. The early mention of the endpoint of the story is a location to be kept in the back of one’s mind while the interceding actions take place.

This combination of punctual and area suffixes in creating narrative structure is not the only use of these two suffixes that points to semantic extension. In a study of the directional prefixes, Berez (2011a) showed that the 3-way deictic distinction of proximal/medial/distal is in fact not as clear as has been previously claimed (Kari 1985, 1990, 2008, 2010), especially in the travel narratives. It is not enough attribute the distinction to physical distance; other factors like identifiability and ownership also play a role in a speaker’s selection of a deixis marker (e.g. Diessel 1999; Cutfield 2011).

Berez (2011a) found the same to be true for the Ahtna prefixes, which in discourse do not make such a clear distinction between objective distances that are closer or farther away. Berez proposes that the prefixes may be undergoing several changes at once: the medial morpheme may be falling out of use, while the distal and proximal morphemes may be undergoing semantic bleaching and phonological fusion with the directional stem. While the precise motivations for deictic selection in the Ahtna directional prefixes were not investigated in Berez (2011a), nonetheless the means for expressing relative distance in Ahtna directional prefixes are now somewhat depleted.

Fortuitously, though, the contrast between locations marked with directionals containing the area suffix and locations marked with directionals containing the punctual suffix is also working to serve a deictic function, and the discourse use of the suffixes also takes over that semantic range in a sense. The suffixes are used to make distinctions in relative distance: the destinations of entire journeys are always further away than those of the journey legs contained with them. If indeed deictic prefixes are lexicalizing and losing their semantic contrast, speakers are able to take advantage of another part of directional grammar to serve the function of distinguishing distance. The lexical meaning of the area and punctual suffixes alone would not be enough to predict that speakers would be able to repurpose the suffixes in this way. Instead, it is how speakers use these suffixes in discourse to describe the legs of an entire journey, and to create episodes and main lines in the discourse, that allows speakers to take advantage of deictic distinctions as well.

And finally, a methodological note: the discourse function of the directional prefixes could not have been revealed without some non-linguistic evidence against which to compare how they are being used. For speakers, this evidence is the landscape of Ahtna territory, which with these narrators are intimately familiar. In the absence of that familiarity, however, a carefully compiled GIS including topographic maps, georeferenced toponyms, textual data, and some anthropological knowledge about Ahtna travel behavior, is able to assist the researcher in identifying the rich structure of the travel narratives. This author strongly encourages the exploration of non-linguistic technologies as assistive tools for linguistic research.

Acknowledgments

I owe deepest gratitude to the Ahtna community who welcomed me into their fold many times, and especially to the Pete family of Tazlina, as well as the Ahtna Heritage Foundation. I am also grateful to James Kari, who provided much of the data under consideration here, as well as Marianne Mithun, Sandy Thompson, and Pat Clancy for their feedback on earlier versions of this paper. I claim responsibility for any errors that may be found herein.

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Footnotes

  • 1

    Note that extensive morphophonology makes identification of the morpheme boundaries difficult, so glosses are given in each case. Directionals are bolded throughout the examples in this paper. Abbreviations: aban=‘abandoned word’, abl=‘ablative’, adjacent=‘adjacent’, advz=‘adverbializer’, all=‘allative’, area=‘area’, caus=‘causative’, clf=‘classifier’, dem=‘demonstrative’, dist=‘distal’, emph=‘emphatic’, exist=‘existential’, imperf=‘imperfective’, iter=‘iterative’, indef=‘indefinite’, med=‘medial’, nh=‘non-human’, o=‘object’, p=‘patient’, perf=‘perfective’, pl=‘plural’, pol.q=‘polarity question marker’, poss=‘possessor’, prox=‘proximal’, punc=‘punctual’, recip=‘reciprocal’, refl=‘reflexive’, rel=‘relativizer’, s=‘singular’, sub=‘subject’, termin=‘terminative’. 

  • 2

    The line breaks in the examples drawn from Kari (2010) do not match those found in the original publication. Kari’s line breaks correspond to normative sentences, but I have inserted line breaks at Intonation Unit boundaries (with permission) for the purposes of this article. See Berez (2011b) for information about determiners for Intonation Units in Ahtna, and see Du Bois (2006) and Du Bois et al. (1992) for information about Intonation Units in general. 

  • 3

    I am using travel narratives here because they contain a lot of instances of the directional suffixes, but that does not mean that their narrative-building function is limited to this genre of discourse. 

  • 4

    http://www.google.com/enterprise/mapsearth/products/earthpro.html 

  • 5

    The stories selected to be included in the data set were selected because they were about winter travel, when we know the most convenient route of travel was via dogsled on frozen rivers, allowing us to plot the “highway” upon which narrators traveled. 

About the article

Published Online: 2015-01-05

Published in Print: 2015-12-01


Citation Information: Linguistics Vanguard, ISSN (Online) 2199-174X, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/lingvan-2014-1004.

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