Case marking variation based on discourse

Don Killian donald.killian at HELSINKI.FI
Tue Aug 14 10:33:19 UTC 2012

Dear all,

I sent an email recently to the Nilo-Saharan mailing list, and now I 
thought to expand to the typology mailing list, since different parts of 
the world may have good suggestions on methodology.

In my work on Uduk, a Koman language spoken on the border of Ethiopia 
and Sudan, I have noticed some interesting alternations with word order 
and case marking.  Uduk alternates frequently between AVO and OVA in 
transitive clauses, and in the OVA word order A is marked ergatively 
has some examples from a talk I gave, but please don't quote it without 
asking me).

One of the triggers of the word order alternations is topicalization, 
but that's a vague concept which is hard to get at in more detail, 
beyond a few basic examples like answering a question or non-volitional 
experiencer constructions, and surprisingly difficult to tease apart 
from information-focus, which in theory should be the opposite of 
topicalized clauses. I've now seen this in enough Nilo-Saharan (and 
Kordofanian) languages to think that this alternation is not actually 
very rare, however, and have seen something similar going on in some 
Austronesian and South American languages as well (e.g. Paumari).  I 
thought to get opinions from others on how to approach the phenomena.

Does anyone have any suggestions on questionnaires, good field methods 
to get at the details of topic/focus constructions, good methodological 
ways to really determine what is going on?

I look forward to any answers people have!

Best Regards,


Don Killian
Researcher in African Linguistics
Department of Modern Languages
PL 24 (Unioninkatu 40)
FI-00014 University of Helsinki
+358 (0)44 5016437

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