Social Cognition in Dalabon

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


    This is the first in a series of planned sketches of how the domain of social cognition is dealt with in the grammar of individual languages in the SCOPIC project. Dalabon is a Gunwinyguan (non-Pama-Nyungan) language of Western Arnhem Land, northern Australia, characterised by richly polysynthetic verb morphology, elaborate ‘kintax’ (grammaticalised coding of kinship relations) in verbal and nominal morphology and organised lexis, and interesting systems for expressing the indeterminacy of modal commitment. This article surveys the encoding of social cognition across the major architectual domains set out in Barth & Evans (2017) article SCOPIC Design and Overview, drawing both on materials gathered in the SCOPIC project and as part of a wider process of language documentation. Regarding the conversational nexus, Dalabon is particularly rich in the categories of person (clusivity contrast) and mood (coded by a combination of inflectional prefixes and suffixes) including realis, irrealis, imperative, purposive and apprehensive. For encoding the grammar of the social world, Dalabon employs a contrast between ‘harmonic’ and ‘disharmonic’ prefixes in the dual, reflecting kinship relationships (among other factors), nominal morphology like dyad markers for denoting groups of reciprocally related kin, triangular kin terms for simultaneously expressing the relationship of speaker and addressee to the referent, among other types of grammatical morphology. For event depictions, a range of applicatives and reflexive/reciprocal constructions track benefits, involvement and action-directedness among participants, while a rich set of adverbial prefixes to the verb modulate such issues as attention or emotion attributions, intention projections and the social disposition of roles during the event. In depicting inner worlds, Dalabon draws predominantly on mechanisms for conveying (direct) represented speech, whether this be for actual speech, reported thoughts and emotions, or perceptions. Experiential histories are not an area with developed encoding, except for the use of a special ‘customary past’ tense. Finally, there are numerous interactions between the various architectural elements above, some of which are examined in the last part of the paper. The comprehensive treatment of social cognition in Dalabon offered here has two main goals: first, to give a snapshot of what is salient, and what is not, within the psychosocial world of an Australian Indigenous language, and second, to provide a holistic key and reference point to the various typological discussions based on all or most SCOPIC languages, showing in detail how various individual elements (e.g. human reference, represented speech, or propositional framing) work together in a single integrated system.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)22-84
    JournalLanguage Documentation and Conservation
    Issue numberSpecial Publication #12
    Publication statusPublished - 2021


    Dive into the research topics of 'Social Cognition in Dalabon'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this