Grammar and Interaction in a Philippine Language


In 1987 and 1989 I spent six months in Northern Luzon to make video-recordings of everyday interaction and conduct linguistic fieldwork on Ilokano, one of the most widely spoken languages of the Philippines. My interest was in the grammatical resources that an Austronesian language with structural features markedly different from Indoeuropean provides for the design of speaking-turns and sequences. While I was initially interested in influences of basic word-order on turn design (Ilokano is usually described as VSO), other type-specific constructions proved to be more interesting.


Chief among them is the linkage (or ligature) construction, which links predicates (modifiers) to their heads, to other predicates, demonstratives, numerals, etc. Ligatures—Gelenkartikel (Himmelmann)—are overlap-prone: while they project more talk by same speaker, they can also invite pre-emption of more talk by same speaker. With the linkage construction and the ligature /nga/ that anchors it, Ilokano and other Philippine languages offer a resource for incremental sentence- and turn-construction, enabling the expanison of sentences over many turns by same and other speakers.


Another, Ilokano-specific turn-construction resource is the lexical word-search marker /kwa/, ‘whatchamacallit’ (or ‘What.’). It is inserted as a place-holder into the troubled turn, whose current construction-unit is abandoned but can immediately be restarted or resumed: /kwa/ makes the turn incursion-proof. But Ilokano speakers not only construct word-searches in this fashion; rather, /kwa/ has become another routine device for incremental, interactive turn-construction, yielding sentences that, in translation, come off like “Then what. Then he gave his sister a what. A hat that he had what. That he had found in the park.” Each occurrence of /kwa/ (‘what’) marks an abandoned construction-unit; cumulatively, by making the turn incursion-proof, they secure the space for an extended turn.


After a long hiatus, I have once again to study the Ilokano transcripts that students at St.Mary’s University of Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya, made of my audio- and videotapes.


1996 A little Ilokano grammar as it appears in interaction. Journal of Pragmatics, 26, 189-213.