Person shift at narrative peak

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9 Citations (Scopus)


Narrators like to highlight important events in their stories. In some languages, they may shift to first- or second-person pronouns to refer to third-person referents in order to do so. Such pronoun shifts show functional parallels with tense shifts like the historical present, as both highlight events through shifts in deictic categories. Longacre (1983:138-39) discusses the parallels between person and tense shifts in his account of narrative peak, that is, the formal marking of important narrative events. Labov (1972) analyzes similar strategies as internal evaluations. Person shifts constitute a phenomenon of the discourse-syntax interface and present a clear case of discourse structure influencing grammar. Both person shifts themselves and their motivation in narrative structure have been little investigated. The article reviews person shifts in a number of languages reported in the literature and analyzes in detail the characteristics of this discourse strategy in Saliba-Logea, an Oceanic language of Papua New Guinea. The study contributes to the growing body of research on pronouns and person markers, and on referring expressions more generally, by adding a new angle of investigation. Previous studies have tended to focus on the morphosyntactic choices of referring expressions and their motivations, that is, on the choices between lexical nouns, free vs. bound pronouns, and so forth. The present study focuses on the paradigmatic choices between different person forms within one and the same morphosyntactic expression type. In doing so it offers a new perspective on pronoun choice and the factors influencing it crosslinguistically. While some types of person shift appear to be rare, overall, the strategy of person shift at narrative peak seems to constitute a solid crosslinguistic phenomenon.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)755 - 805
Number of pages51
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • Discourse structure
  • Evaluation
  • Historical present
  • Imperatives
  • Narrative peak
  • Narratives
  • Person shift
  • Pronouns
  • Silverstein hierarchy
  • Tense shift

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