[Colloquium] The grammar of Abawiri arguments: When grammatical relations don’t matter

Grammatical relations (GRs) are the syntactic relation between an argument and the construction it is in. GRs such as subject and object have crystallized in most of the world’s languages. Abawiri, by contrast, appears to be one of the rather rare languages in which no construction has developed that indicates GRs. In this talk I discuss the apparent lack of GRs in Abawiri, showing alternative ways in which arguments are handled. I then ask how a language like this functions in communication. For example, how do speakers disambiguate between the agent and the patient in a transitive clause? Answers include a grammaticalized topic-comment clause structure, with focus marking, as well as the large amount of shared knowledge in the small Abawiri-speaking community.