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Review of  Morphologies of Asia and Africa


Reviewer: 'Mary Paster' ['Mary Paster'] Mary Paster
Book Title: Morphologies of Asia and Africa
Book Author: † Alan S. Kaye
Publisher: Eisenbrauns
Linguistic Field(s): Morphology
Language Family(ies): Semitic
Indo-European
Afroasiatic
Book Announcement: 19.1357

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Review:
EDITOR: Kaye, Alan S.
TITLE: Morphologies of Asia and Africa
PUBLISHER: Eisenbrauns
YEAR: 2007

Mary Paster, Department of Linguistics and Cognitive Science, Pomona College

SUMMARY
This book is an encyclopedic, two-volume reference comprising descriptions of a
wide range of Asian and African morphological systems, 46 in all. As described
in the Introduction by editor Alan Kaye (who tragically died of bone cancer in
May 2007, before the collection was published), the book aims to ''present
interesting facts about the word-formation strategies of the language(s) under
discussion in an informative and typologically relevant way.'' The selection of
languages is meant to be both broad and deep, but not evenly distributed across
language families or geographic areas. For example, Kaye points out that there
is a particular emphasis on Semitic and Afroasiatic languages since these were
areas of his own interest. The depth in certain areas comes at the acknowledged
expense of coverage of some more well-known languages; e.g., there is no essay
on Chinese or Japanese.

The individual language entries are written by experts on each particular
language and, in many cases, people who are well-known experts on the relevant
language family as a whole. The entries vary in their style, range of coverage,
and theoretical perspective, but all of them are descriptively oriented and have
large amounts of data. Most of the essays state linguistic generalizations in
pretheoretical terms, and most range from being almost completely non-formal to
mentioning points of formal theoretical interest only in passing.

The essays are organized mainly according to their genetic affiliation. Volume 1
deals with the Afroasiatic languages. Essays 1-10 cover the ancient Semitic
languages, and essays 11-18 cover modern Semitic languages. Essay 19 is on
Berber, essays 20-24 are on Cushitic languages, essays 25-28 are on Chadic
languages, and essay 29 is on Omotic. In volume 2, essays 30-37 are on
Indo-European languages. Essay 30 is on an Anatolian language (Hittite), essays
31-32 are on Indo-Iranian, 33-34 cover ancient Iranian languages, 35-36 cover
modern Iranian languages, and essay 37 is on Classical Armenian. Essay 38 is on
a Nilo-Saharan language (Kanuri), 39 is on a Niger-Congo language (Swahili), and
40 is on an Altaic language (Turkish). Essays 41-42 cover Caucasian languages,
43 is on a Malayo-Polynesian language (Indonesian), and 44-46 cover language
isolates (Burushaski, Ket, and Sumerian).

EVALUATION
Kaye's pointedly humorous introduction is a rallying cry for linguists who are
interested in morphology and wish to see it treated as a full-fledged component
of grammar worthy of study in its own right. It is also a passionate call to
arms for linguists of the descriptive persuasion who agree with Kaye's view that
''linguistics deals with languages and, in particular, should deal more with
exotic tongues.'' These views are carried through consistently throughout the
collection, with each contributor giving a very detailed description using data
that in many cases have never been exposed to such a wide audience. Bello Buba
and Jonathan Owens' essay on Glavda describes a particularly interesting
language that was virtually undescribed before.

This is an inspiring set of volumes. The expertise represented in its pages is
almost overwhelming, as are the copious quantities of data in the essays. It
seems, therefore, that this work is an absolute success with respect to the
goals set forth by the editor. It is also quite an impressive testament to the
editor that such a who's-who of language experts contributed to the collection.

The papers are of consistently high quality in terms of their depth of
description, less so in their clarity. Some (e.g., Alan Kaye on Arabic, Jeffrey
Heath on Moroccan) are entertaining and even flowery in parts, while most are
straightforward and in some cases even somewhat like an outline in their style.
One example is Wolf Leslau's essay on Amharic; in that case the sparse style is
a good thing because there is such a wealth of data (much of it quite usefully
organized into paradigms) that the paper takes up 51 pages even without a lot of
exposition.

Several of the authors helpfully attempt to contextualize the morphological
descriptions. Some do a particularly nice job of integrating the discussion of
morphology with other areas of interest in the same language, particularly
phonology. For example, Robert Hoberman's essay on Maltese contains a lucid
discussion of a 'ghost consonant' that has played a major role in analyses of
Maltese phonology, and Grover Hudson's contribution on Highland East Cushitic
languages discusses a fascinating process in Hadiyya taboo language that
replaces a syllable and the onset of the following syllable of a word that
shares its first syllable with the name of a woman's father-in-law. As Hudson
points out, this replacement pattern is problematic for the notion that rules of
this type must refer to some element of the prosodic hierarchy such as a mora,
syllable, or foot.

Other authors' essays raise issues of historical and dialectological interest.
For example, Gregory Anderson's contribution on Burushaski deals with three
separate dialects and makes explicit comparisons among the three. And Russell
Schuh's essay on Bade, for example, includes considerable discussion of
developments in Western Bade compared with other Bade dialects and other
languages in the same subgroup of West Chadic. In essays such as these, the
reader has a good point of reference for understanding what is of special
interest in the language. All of the essays contain weighty descriptions and
bountiful data, but some will be of more use than others for non-specialist
readers due to their varying efforts to situate the descriptions in some wider
context, whether theoretical or comparative.

Although there is much to appreciate in these volumes, it is also worth pointing
out a couple of attributes of the collection that may be viewed as flaws by some
readers. One aspect of these volumes that may disappoint is the scant coverage
of certain language families, most notably Niger-Congo. According to Ethnologue,
the Niger-Congo language family has 1,514 languages in it, while Altaic has 66
languages. Yet both families are represented by the same number of essays in
this collection (namely, one). And Afroasiatic has far fewer languages than
Niger-Congo (375, according to Ethnologue), but the entirety of volume 1 (29 of
the 46 essays) is devoted to Afroasiatic. Kaye does predict in the Introduction
that ''[r]eviewers will inevitably point out that this language should have been
included or that one was superfluous,'' but even if one accepts that the main
focus is on Afroasiatic with only a side helping of languages that are
''culturally and geographically related'' to it, the minimal coverage of
Niger-Congo in the context of volume 2 is still disappointing (although Ellen
Contini-Morava's essay on Swahili is excellent, and it is also likely to be
among the most interesting to those with interests in morphological theory since
it gives a nice overview of the controversy over the formal analysis of the
Swahili verb and how competing morphological models have proposed to model it).

A more significant issue is the heavy emphasis on description at the expense of
theoretical discussion. One of Kaye's stated goals, which this collection is
meant to contribute to, is a '''grand synthesis' of morphological theory and
Universal Grammar''. If such a synthesis is to be achieved, it seems that people
working on the descriptive side may need to reach a bit further towards the
theoretical side. In the Introduction, Kaye discusses various types of
morphological models falling under the general frameworks known as
''Item-and-Process'', ''Item-and-Arrangement'', and ''Word-and-Paradigm''. Yet the
individual contributions to the collection rarely make any mention of these
types of approaches or to which approach might work best for the language in
question, and few explicitly state which type of model they are assuming (Sharon
Rose's essay on Chaha is one notable exception). The vast majority of essays are
purely descriptive, making it difficult to relate the language data to problems
in morphological theory. I do not necessarily intend this as a criticism of the
contributors; in light of the almost uniform non-theoretical nature of the
contributions, this appears to have been a decision made by the editor and
passed along to the authors. But a reader interested in bridging the gap between
good description and theoretical relevance is likely to find that this
collection falls a bit short on the theory side.

Despite these shortcomings, the depth, breadth, and overall quality of this
collection are outstanding. _Morphologies of Asia and Africa_ is an impressive
achievement and will serve as a valuable and authoritative reference on the
languages it describes.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Mary Paster is an Assistant Professor of Linguistics and Cognitive Science at
Pomona College. Her research interests are in phonology and morphology,
primarily in African languages, and her recent work has focused on tone,
language description and documentation, and the phonology-morphology interface.
 

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