Resolving hierarchy conflict: local obviation in Blackfoot*

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University of Calgary
Algonquian languages, including Blackfoot, are renowned for their failure to directly follow the Universal Animacy Hierarchy, which privileges first person over second person. In at least certain aspects of the Blackfoot grammar, it is typically assumed that second person is privileged over first. Even more surprising is that this apparent [2>1] hierarchy is not the sole one operative within this language. Rather, elsewhere within the grammar, the Universal Animacy Hierarchy appears to be obeyed, with the first person being privileged over the second. In this paper we argue that this apparent hierarchy conflict in Blackfoot can be resolved by reconsidering the nature of person marking and the role of obviation in the verbal complex. Specifically, we propose extensions to Harley and Ritter’s (2002) morphosyntactic feature geometry to include obviation. This is represented within a Stage node which, along with Participant, is a dependent of Sentience. Further to this, we argue that Proximate and Obviative features are not limited to non-local referents as is typically assumed. Rather, local persons can also express obviation contrasts. We treat the Blackfoot person prefixes as exemplifying precisely such specification, in contrast with previous proposals which identify them as first and second persons. Recognizing these prefixes as participating in the obviation system provides insight into seemingly problematic phenomena within Blackfoot’s verbal morphology. Crucially, our account facilitates a resolution of the apparent hierarchy conflicts present in other analyses and reaffirms the centrality of the Universal Animacy Hierarchy in Blackfoot.
Linguistics, Algonquian languages, Blackfoot, Siksika language, Morphology, Syntax, Animacy
Bliss, H., & Jesney, K. (2005). Resolving hierarchy conflict: local obviation in Blackfoot*. Calgary Working Papers in Linguistics, 26(Spring), 92-116.