Unpacking the Okanagan Person-Marking Conundrum


  • Paul Barthmaier




Okanagan, a Southern Interior Salish language spoken in northern Washington state and southern British Columbia, exhibits a peculiar set of pronominal morphemes that surely are a testament to a diverse and varied history. From the outside, the pronominal markers associated with Okanagan clauses appear to be a disparate group of morphemes. A lack of formal similarity frustrates attempts to characterize them as either nominative-accusative or ergative-absolutive. Morphologically the pronominal forms appear to be the typologically rare tripartite system. Yet, speakers have little trouble using the different markers in their appropriate contexts. In what follows, I will propose an analysis of how the person marking in the language has come to have such an interesting shape. I will offer internal and external motivations that the system responded to as it evolved into its current form.