The efficacy of anaphoricity in Aleut

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The unusual inflectional system of Aleut can be understood holistically, as deploying forms, meanings, and forces so as to make efficient use of the contrasts that its limited space of expression types makes available. Indeed, in every natural language, the features of its grammar work together to allow the communication of what needs to be communicated. Every language, I believe, accomplishes a great deal of this work by using the ability of native users of the language to know what else might have been said and how the alternatives would contrast with what is said. All that is unusual about Aleut is that a preconceived idea about how the direct relation between form and meaning works fails more obviously in Aleut than it does in more familiar languages. We expect that definite reference to third persons will always be directly encoded, either in inflection or by means of clitics or independent pronouns. Knut Bergsland, who devoted more time to the study of Aleut than anyone else has, provided convincing evidence that definite reference is not directly coded in Aleut. What is coded is only that there is an additional reference that is “left out as known from context or the situation”. The rest is Saussurean–Gricean holism.


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