Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Barbara A. Fox

Second Advisor

David S. Rood

Third Advisor

Andrew Cowell

Fourth Advisor

Nick Enfield

Fifth Advisor

Gary Holton


Kula is an endangered Papuan (or non-Austronesian) language spoken in the highlands of eastern Alor island in southeastern Indonesia. Along with the closely related Sawila and Wersing languages, it is a member of the recently established Timor-Alor-Pantar language family. Published work on Kula is limited to a wordlist (Stokhof 1975) and an analysis of verbal person marking morphology (Donohue 1996). This dissertation represents the first in depth study of the Kula language. The description and analyses of Kula linguistic practices are based on an annotated corpus of video-recorded Kula language use, collected over the course of nearly two years of fieldwork in Desa Tanglapui, a Kula village in eastern Alor.

In addition to the first detailed grammatical description of Kula, this dissertation reports on a study of place reference in everyday conversation among speakers of Kula. While person reference as a pervasive feature of everyday conversation has received significant attention in recent years (e.g. Sacks and Schegloff 1979, Schegloff 1996, Stivers and Enfield 2007, Enfield 2012), and linguistic and gestural ways of referring to space have been studied extensively across a range of languages (e.g. Levinson 2003, Kita ed. 2003, Levinson and Wilkins 2006), very little work has examined the formulation of reference to places in conversational interaction (exceptions include Schegloff 1972, and, very recently, Blythe et al. 2016, San Roque 2016, Sicoli 2016). This dissertation represents one of the first in depth studies of place reference from an interactional perspective.

The interactional approach to place reference taken here has multiple goals. First, it provides an alternative approach to grammatical description. Rather than identifying forms by elicitation or analysis of monologic texts, the interactional approach begins with a persistent problem of social interaction (e.g. how to refer to a place) and identifies recurrent linguistic and gestural resources deployed in solving that problem. In my analysis of over 200 minutes of video-recorded interaction in Kula, I identify and describe practices for referring to place, including use of place names, elevationals, demonstratives, landmarks, and two formally and functionally distinct types of pointing.

I then propose a set of principles underlying the distribution of these practices across distinct sequential environments. While the principles identified here for doing reference to place in Kula are preliminary, they point to some important differences with the reference to persons. While a preference for recognition is one fundamental principle underlying formulation of person reference across languages, many instances of reference to place in Kula can be characterized as vague and not fully recognitional. On the other hand, significant evidence points to the relevance of a preference for minimization in place reference in Kula. Other principles underlying the cases of place reference examined here include whether the place has a conventional name or not, whether the reference is functioning as a setting of location, as well as what relative epistemic status each of the speakers inhabits. My analysis of place reference in Kula points to the need for more comparative work across languages and domains of reference.