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The grammar of engagement II: typology and diachrony


Engagement systems encode the relative accessibility of an entity or state of affairs to the speaker and addressee, and are thus underpinned by our social cognitive capacities. In our first foray into engagement (Part 1), we focused on specialised semantic contrasts as found in entity-level deictic systems, tailored to the primal scenario for establishing joint attention. This second paper broadens out to an exploration of engagement at the level of events and even metapropositions, and comments on how such systems may evolve. The languages Andoke and Kogi demonstrate what a canonical system of engagement with clausal scope looks like, symmetrically assigning ‘knowing’ and ‘unknowing’ values to speaker and addressee. Engagement is also found cross-cutting other epistemic categories such as evidentiality, for example where a complex assessment of relative speaker and addressee awareness concerns the source of information rather than the proposition itself. Data from the language Abui reveal that one way in which engagement systems can develop is by upscoping demonstratives, which normally denote entities, to apply at the level of events. We conclude by stressing the need for studies that focus on what difference it makes, in terms of communicative behaviour, for intersubjective coordination to be managed by engagement systems as opposed to other, non-grammaticalised means.

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*Address for correspondence: Nicholas Evans. e-mail:
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