PERSON-HIERARCHIES AND THE ORIGIN OF ASYMMETRIES IN TOTONAC VERBAL PARADIGMS

David Beck

Abstract


Transitive verbs in Totonac-Tepehua languages show apparent irregularities in agreement in verb forms where both subject and object are speech act participants (that is, 1 H 2 combinations) and one or both are plural. Data from Upper Necaxa Totonac indicate that source of this asymmetry is a 2 > 1 person-hierarchy which also has ramifications for patterns of language use, in particular the use of plural and reciprocal forms to avoid direct expressions of affectedness of the speaker by the action of the addressee. This pattern of social practice seems to support an analysis of the origin of these paradigmatic asymmetries in what Heath (1998) terms 'pragmatic skewing' whereby grammatical systems evolve to avoid violating pragmatic restrictions on discourse.

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