Oblique mentions of human referents in Finnish conversation

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On the basis of empirical evidence it has been shown that mentions of human referents manifest features of prominence on the level of both discourse and grammar. This is so because they tend to be topical and agentive and are consequently likely to appear in core grammatical roles, especially in the subject role. Nevertheless, human referents are occasionally also mentioned in oblique cases (for example, as possessors and as recipients of various types). Ritva Laury studies these oblique mentions of human refer­ents in Finnish and investigates whether human mentions are equally distributed among all the oblique cases. She further explores what their pragmatic and semantic characteristics are and whether they take on the typical discourse profile of obliques (i.e. new, unidentifiable, and unlikely to be re-mentioned), or whether they still get treated like other human referents so that they would be identi­fiable, given and further tracked. Laury also investigates the semantic features of NPs used for oblique mentions of humans in discourse. The results of her study strongly confirm the centrality of human referents in grammar and discourse. Oblique mentions in the data show features of syntactic prominence, since they are not equally distributed among all the oblique cases, but instead cluster in only a few cases, namely those which occur in constructions with grammatical rather than local meaning. Further, human referents mentioned in oblique case roles are still pragmatically and semantically strongly human in terms of being par­ticipants in speech events, in being identifiable, given, and further tracked, that is, continuous topics in discourse, and in being lexically specified as humans.


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