This work provides the only description of the grammar and narratives of Tirax, an Oceanic language spoken in three villages on Malakula, North Central Vanuatu. The data on which the work is based was collected by the author during a three-month fieldtrip to Malakula in 2004, with a short follow-up fieldtrip in 2007, and regular correspondence for final fact-checking.
Tirax has many features typical of North Central Vanuatu languages, such as obligatory subject-mood markers distinguishing realis and irrealis mood, ‘inalienable’ and ‘alienable’ possessive marking, a range of possessive classifiers for alienable possession, verbal behaviour in the numeral system, ‘nuclear’ verb serialisation, and a range of strategies for paratactic linkage. Additionally, several morphosyntactic processes, such as object marking and plural marking, are sensitive to the animacy of the referent.
The pattern of distribution of some of the grammatical features identified in the language was studied to determine their discourse-pragmatic function. In particular, aspect markers and NP markers encoding definiteness and number arc grammatically optional in Tirax, and it is found that they are strategically used by speakers for marking prominence or otherwise engaging the hearer in the narrative. The work therefore represents a novel approach to language description, highlighting the relationship between discourse and grammar. A holistic analysis of the narratives was undertaken, studying the prosodic, morphosyntactic and discourse-semantic layers of structure. This holistic, integrated approach has revealed the existence of transition clauses, hitherto undescribed discourse structures which are frequently encountered in Tirax.
Appendices include illustrative texts, a methodology for identifying intonation units, and a description of Tirax phonology. There is also a CD ROM version of this work with links to illustrative audio clips.