Event representation in serial verb constructions

Andrew Pawley*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

    8 Citations (Scopus)


    What can linguistic representations tell us about how people conceive of events? This chapter revisits an earlier debate on that question which focused on event representation in serial verb constructions (SVCs) in certain languages of New Guinea. Underlying the debate, between Tom Givón and me, was the general question of whether people who speak languages (or linguistic genres) with different semantic categories and structures live in partly different conceptual worlds or whether such linguistic differences are largely superficial and are not a reliable indicator of differences in worldview. The debate was provoked, in part, by a paper comparing the way events are reported in English and in Kalam, a language spoken by about 20,000 people in the Bismarck and Schrader Ranges, on the northern fringes of the central highlands of Papua New Guinea (Pawley 1987). Givón felt that my conclusion that English and Kalam have markedly different conventions for reporting events, so that isomorphic or quasi-isomorphic translation of the reports was often impossible, could be read as adopting a position of “extreme culture-relativism” (1990: 22). A central issue was the definition of ‘(conceptual) event’ and the degree to which there is isomorphism between event boundaries defined by syntactic, semantic, and pause-placement or intonational criteria, respectively. Kalam belongs to the large Trans New Guinea (TNG) family, containing some 400 languages, which dominates the central highlands of New Guinea.

    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationEvent Representation in Language and Cognition
    PublisherCambridge University Press
    Number of pages30
    ISBN (Electronic)9780511782039
    ISBN (Print)9780521898348
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2010


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