This page is meant to be an introduction to obviation in Mi'gmaq only; for further details, please see the linked pages below.
Mi'gmaq is a language with a feature called obviation. It is a way of distinguishing between different third persons: a "closer to speakers" third person known as the proximate and a "further from speakers" third person known as the obviative, also referred to as the 4th person (Payne 1997: 212). The obviate is marked on both nouns and verbs, as discussed below.
 Obviation on Nouns
If there are two animate third person participants in a phrase, the object of the phrase will usually be marked as the obviate by adding -l, -al or -tl to the end. This only happens when the object is a singular noun (Mi'gmaq plural nouns are not marked for obviation; Manyakina 2012). So, for example, in the phrase The deer sees the bear, the obviative suffix will attach to the bear, as in the example below:
lentug nemi-at-l mui'n-al deer see-3>3-OBV bear-OBV
'The deer sees the bear'
This makes it easy to keep track of who is doing what, especially if the word order changes:
nemi-at-l mui'n-al lentug see=3>3-OBV bear-OBV deer
'The deer sees the bear'
Obviation can also be marked on proper nouns, like names:
Mali gesal-at-l Piel-al Mary love-3>3-OBV Peter-OBV
'Mary loves Peter'
Some possessed nouns necessarily have obviation marked on them since there are two third persons involved: a possessor (the proximate third person) and a person who is the object of possession (the obviative third person), as in 'his or her friend':
'his or her friend'
 Obviation on Verbs
Proposed page: Obviation and Verbs
This section may need to be shortened once obviation is covered further on other pages (namely the VAI and VTA pages and/or the proposed Obviation and Verbs page).
In addition to being marked on nouns, obviation is also marked on verbs. This is most apparent in the transitive animate (or TA) verbs, such as nemiatl, 'he or she sees him or her', and gesalatl 'he or she loves him or her', above. In general, these verbs will take either a singular obviative ending, -l, or a plural obviative ending, -i (and sometimes -a), depending on whether the obviative is singular or plural. Some examples are given below:
|-l||-at-l||3>4||gesalatl, 'he or she likes him or her (OBV)'|
|-a'tit-l||3PL>4||gesala'titl, 'they like him or her (OBV)'|
|-i||-aj-i||3>4PL||gesalaji, 'he or she likes them (OBV)'|
|-a'tij-i||3PL>4PL||gesala'tiji, 'they like them (OBV)'|
In addition to proximate third persons acting on obviative third persons, obviative persons may also act on other obviative persons. An example taken from a written transcription of a story about the puglatmu'jg, or little people, is given below:
'They (OBV) disappeared into them (the mountains; OBV)'
Obviative third persons may also be the subject of animate intransitive (or AI) verbs if the discourse context allows it. For the singular form of these verbs, the obviative ending is added to the regular third person proximate ending, as so (example taken from Manyakina 2012):
ug-tus-l etlenm-ilit-l 3.POSS-daughter-OBV laugh-3-OBV
'his or her daughter is laughing'
For plural subjects, an entirely different ending is used for the obviative form (the dual form of the obviative for these verbs has not been seen as of yet):
'They (OBV) live'
 Obviation and Discourse
Main Page: Obviation and Discourse
An easier way to think of obviation is as a "spotlighting system" in which there is a middleman (Quinn 2006). So, in example (4) above you have to know who "his/her" is (the person in the spotlight) before you know who his/her friend is (the other person). Obviation, then, is simply used whenever you have to "go through someone else" to get to the person you are talking about (footnote here: Quinn develops a very accessible scenario).
When there are two or more animate third persons within a given stretch of discourse in Mi'gmaq, only one third person is allowed to be proximate or in the spotlight. The rest must take the obviative suffix, as shown in the example below (taken from Manyakina 2012):
Piel ignmu-at-l Mali-al tap'tan-n Peter give-3>3-OBV Mary-OBV potato-OBV
'Peter gives Mary a potato''
Moreover, spotlights can shift. What this means is that from clause to clause or sentence to sentence, the person we are talking about can either "gain" or "lose" foreground. Imagine a situation in which you are talking to your friend and you tell him/her that your friend Peter loves Mary. Then, to clarify for your friend that the feeling is mutual you add, "And Mary loves Peter". In your first statement, "Peter loves Mary", Peter has the spotlight. He is the proximate and Mary is the obviative. However, this shifts when you add a second clause, because the last person that you have spoken about was Mary so she is the more prominent person in the discourse:
Piel gesal-a-t-l Mali-al aq Mali gesal-a-t-l Piel-al Peter love-DIR-3>4AN-OBV Mary-OBV and Mary love-DIR-3>4AN-OBV Peter-OBV
'Peter loves Mary and Mary loves Peter.'
There is further discussion of the difficulties of pinning down discourse-driven obviation here, in Cook & Muhlbauer (2006).
- Manyakina, Y. (2012) An Analysis of Obviation in Mi'gmaq. Honour's Thesis. Montréal: Concordia University.
- Payne, T.E. (1997) Describing morphosyntax: A guide for field linguists. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Wilmot, Joe, prepared by. "Puglatmu'jg"