Review of Case and Agreement in Abaza
Date: Sun, 28 Nov 2004 22:01:26 +0100
From: Wolfgang Schulze
Subject: Case and Agreement in Abaza
AUTHOR: O'Herin, Brian
TITLE: Case and Agreement in Abaza
SERIES: Publications in Linguistics #138
PUBLISHER: SIL International
Wolfgang Schulze, IATS, University of Munich
ë = schwa
l/ = voiceless lateral spirant
sh = voiceless alveo-palatal fricative
zh = voiced alveo-palatal fricative
c = voiceless palatal affricate
x = voiceless palato-velar fricative
h/ = voiceless pharyngeal fricative (O'Herin writes )
/ = voiced pharyngeal fricative
' = glottalization (e.g. t' = glottalized t)
* = labialization (e.g. c* = labialized c)
The book under review represents a modified version of Brian O'Herin's
1995 University of California (Santa Cruz) Ph.D. dissertation. It concerns
Abaza (Abaza Bëzsh*a), a Northwest Caucasian language, spoken by some
40.000 (other sources 31.000) people in the Karachai-Circassian Republic
(Russian Federation), located at the northwestern slopes of the Great
Caucasus mountain range (see Schulze 2002a for a recent presentation of
the Abaza linguistic area). The main Abaza settlements are situated along
the upper course of the Little and Great Zelenchuk rivers, as well as
along the Laba and the Urup rivers. Here, Abaza speakers are to be found
in thirteen villages, e.g. Abazakt, Tapanta, El'burgan, and Psysh. In
addition, there are two Abaza villages near Kislovodsk and scattered
settlements in the Kabardino-Balkarian Republic. Outside Russia, there are
Abaza communities in Northern Turkey (near Amasya), as well as in Syria,
Jordan, Egypt, and in the Balkans.
In spite of the fact that Abaza knows a written standard (see below), the
language has to be described as endangered. According to the estimation of
local speakers, Abaza is hardly ever used in school classes or among
youngsters. Its use is mainly confined to the communication within the
middle and older generation. Still, it must be added that recent
sociolinguistic surveys draw a less pessimistic picture (see Schulze 2000a
for some details).
Historically, the Abaza language had been spoken along the coast line of
the Black Sea between what today is Tuapse in the North and the river Bzyb
in the South. From this we can infer, that Abaza must have been in contact
with the now extinct language Ubykh, historically spoken north of that
area. Its earlier history is directly connected to that of its 'sister
language' Abkhaz, see Schulze 2002b for a brief account. Accordingly,
Abkhaz and Abaza form the southern branch of (North)West Caucasian, which
again perhaps is related to a group of ancient northern Anatolian
languages such as Hatti and Kashki (an early version of 'Circassian'?).
Untenable is O'Herin's claim that "the potentially related languages
include South Caucasian (...)" (p.6). Colarusso's suggestion to relate
Northwest Caucasian to Indo-European is likewise difficult to follow (cf.
Abaza speakers left their original homeland in the 13th-14th century and
occupied their present locations devastated by Mongolian and Turkic
raiders (1240). The two main dialects of Abaza (Tapanta and Ashkhar) seem
to reflect the dialectal distribution given in the original homeland. Due
to the supremacy of Kabardian (Eastern Circassian) groups (from the 17th
century onwards), the Kabardian language started to influence especially
the Tapanta variety. Due to the Tsarist efforts to russianize the region,
more then four fifths of the original population left their homeland
between 1862 and 1864. The remaining, by that time 9.000 Abaza were
settled in their current locations.
In their historical homeland, the Abaza had been Christians. After their
migration to the northern slopes of the Caucasus mountain range, they soon
converted to Islam (Hanafiya).
Abaza is a written language (based on the Tapanta dialect). In 1923, the
Abaza poet Talustan Talubov created an orthography based on Latin
characters (discussed e.g. by Khashba 1931) that was replaced by a
Cyrillic version in 1938. There is a considerable amount of literature
available that is written in the Abaza language, both journalistic and
poetic. Descriptions of Abaza do not start with Bouda (1940), as claimed
by the author of the study under review p.1: Already in 1938, G. P.
Serdjuchenko (the author of a small grammatical sketch of Abaza
(Serdjuchenko 1956)) published an article on the dialects of Abaza (the
earliest account seems to be Savinov 1850, a source, which reports (among
others) on the Abaza language). As early as 1908, Abaza intellectuals in
the Istanbul diaspora designed a written norm for Abaza, which, however,
did not see success (nevertheless, the early history of Abaza grammar
writing still remains an unstudied matter). In addition, we have to assume
that from 1923-1929, several books on Abaza must have been prepared for
Just as it is true for its sister languages, Abaza is a strongly
prefixing, agglutinating language, characterized by strong preferences for
head marking strategies. Typologically speaking, Northwest Caucasian has
much in common e.g. with the layout of Athapaskan grammatical systems.
Contrary to Abkhaz, Abaza has extended the grammaticalization
of 'pragmatic markers' as verbal suffixes. The unmarked word order is verb-
final, preceded by a focal 'slot' as well as by referential segments
marked for grammatical relations. As for these relations, Abaza follows
a 'split ergativity' strategy (neutral/ergative, see below). Finally,
Abaza, just as it is true for its sister languages, operated through a
remarkable paradigm of phonemic variation that gives us for Abaza a system
of roughly sixty consonants and two vowels (note that with respect to the
number of phonemes, Abaza is rather moderate compared to e.g. Ubykh).
Morphological and syntactic complexity paired with a considerable amount
of pragmatically relevant coding strategies render Abaza a typological
treasure vault that still awaits a more comprehensive coverage. In this
respect, O'Herin's book fills a significant gap: Hitherto, Abaza data have
hardly been analyzed from the point of view of General Linguistics, in any
framework whatsoever. O'Herin, who has undoubtedly managed to get deep
into this language often (and falsely) denounced as an extremely difficult
language, concentrates on the domains of Case and Agreement which
constitute a major part of the Abaza 'relational' grammar. In this sense,
the book promises to contribute not only to a better understanding of what
is going on in a 'typical' Northwest Caucasian grammar, but also to the
validation of these analytic domains themselves. On p. 1 of his book,
O'Herin lists a number of references that are said to illustrate the small
amount of linguistic work relevant for Abaza. His bibliography, listing
some 110 titles, includes seventeen references that concern Abaza. Still,
it should be noted that the author neglects a number of important sources,
such as Genko 1954, Lomtatidze 1967, Lomtatidze & Klychev 1989; and
Chirikba 1997. He likewise ignores the recent studies on Abaza, prepared
by Iosif I. Gagiev (Gagiev 2000a, 2000b). Another relevant source
neglected by O'Herin is given by a set of pedagogical grammars produced by
Nur'ya T. Tabulova (e.g. Tabulova 1953, 1969, 1971). Also, he does not
consider the vast literature available for Abkhaz, the sister language of
Abaza, which shares many of the features discussed by O'Herin with Abaza.
For instance, O'Herin remains in nearly complete silence as for the
impressive work by George Hewitt, the grand-seigneur of Abkhaz studies.
Nevertheless, it goes without saying that O'Herin's analysis of Abaza that
touches upon a very important theme crucial to both syntax theory and
language typology is well-grounded with respect to the linguistic data
exploited by the author. O'Herin has conducted a number of field trips to
the Abaza communities assembling a vast collection of data. Unfortunately,
the author does not tell us more explicitly of where and how he collected
his data. The names referred to page xi-xii (when thanking his Abaza
friends) suggest that the places of field work had been located both in
Turkey and in Russia.
O'Herin's presentation of Abaza covers 286 (+ xvii) pages. It is divided
into eight chapters, preceded by 'Acknowledgements' and a list of
abbreviations, and followed by an appendix (summarizing constructional
patterns of 'dynamic and stative predicates') and a list of references
(see above). From the very beginning, the reader should be aware of the
fact that O'Herin aims at an analysis of the Abaza data that is based on a
formal framework, namely Principles and Parameters. This orientation
explains what else would remain obscure at least for those readers
acquainted with West Caucasian languages: It is standard knowledge that
Abaza lacks case forms marked on referential (or nominal in its widest
sense) forms. So, how can a book be entitled 'Case and Agreement in
Abaza', if the language lacks what usually is associated with the
term 'case'? This 'puzzle' is solved once the reader has adopted the
formal Case Theory. Accordingly, "all Case assignment occurs in the
specifier-head relationship within one of two types of agreement phrases,
absolutive agreement phrases (...) and ergative agreement phrases (...)"
(p.39). To illustrate this point, let me simply quote an example randomly
taken from O'Herin's book (p. 59; here, I have retained O'Herin's
glossing; 'sphas' (recte: s-ph/as) is not segmented by O'Herin):
sara wac*a s-ph/as (')al/ën lë-s-t-wëf-d
I tomorrow 1s-woman ring 3sf-1s-give-FUT-DYN
'I will give my wife a ring tomorrow'
Neither sara 'I', nor s-ph/as 'my wife' or 'al/ën 'ring' are marked for
case. But each case role (if we include the positionally defined zero-echo
for 'al/ën) is reflected in the verb via agreement.
The fact that O'Herin adopts a formal framework to illustrate the basic
morphosyntactic strategies of Abaza renders the book somewhat hermetic.
Readers not interested in or not used to formal approaches to language
structures have to single out passages relevant for their proper research
interests. In the introductory section, O'Herin makes clear that one of
his goals is to convince "those not familiar with formal theories that
there is much to be gained from such theories in terms of understanding
language". For those not used to the framework of Principles and
Parameters, the author offers a (admittedly very) brief overview in
section 1.2 of his book (pp.33-41). Maybe that this section is helpful for
those who want to learn of how this formal framework accounts for the
Abaza data. Also, specialists in this framework will find numerous
arguments that help to refine some assertions of the framework. Still,
the 'ordinary' user interested in typological variation together with its
historical and pragmatic instantiations in Abaza, probably misses
allusions to other explanatory paradigms which have turned out to be at
least as powerful as formal theories to account for typological variation
(e.g. Cognitive Typology, Cognitive Semantics, historical comparative
linguistics etc.) Note that O'Herin's contribution is written from a
nearly completely synchronic perspective, although it comes clear that
quite a number of findings do not have synchronic motivation but stem from
the habitualization of older communicative patters (see for instance
Lomtatidze 1977 for a preliminary presentation of the linguistic history
Not being a specialist in formal approaches to language, I will refrain
from presenting the individual analyses prepared by O'Herin. I leave it to
such specialists to judge upon the appropriateness and correctness of
O'Herin's analyses with respect to the underlying framework. Rather, I
will simply summarize the main categorial, constructional, and
morphological patterns elaborated by the author.
The introductory section starts with a rather condensed description of the
grammar of Abaza. He briefly considers the phonological system, which,
nevertheless is crucial to some aspects of Abaza morphosyntax. In fact,
morphophonological features often help to decide which kind of functional
properties we have to deal with. For instance, in Abkhaz, the sister
language of Abaza, the first person singular prefix (s-) is assimilated to
a voiced onset of the verbal stem (when immediately following the prefix)
(> z-). This process, however, is confined to the 'agentive' role
(horribile dictu: transitive subject). In case s- reflects a first person
singular in objective function ('object'), this process does not apply.
According to my consultants, the same holds for Abaza.
O'Herin then briefly considers the 'morphology and syntax' of Abaza,
concentrating on postpositional phrases, nominal phrases, and verbal
phrases. Each of these domains is further elaborated in the subsequent
chapters. Here, it is sufficient to note that Abaza postpositions (echoing
the feature 'person/class' of the 'object' of the postposition with the
help of the set of possessive prefixes) in fact are not postpositions at
all, but grammaticalized possessive structures, e.g. (I have changed the
glosses to render them more explicit):
awëy a-mshtax (p.9)
a-s'ëys a-/*ara (p.50)
'the bird's nest'
The hypothesis that both patterns share the same underlying constructional
pattern is standard knowledge in West Caucasian linguistics. Nevertheless,
O'Herin "posit(s) the possessor in a specifier position within the nominal
extended projection and not in a complement position" (p.51). In other
words: The issue again touches upon the question whether one gives
preference to syntactic 'principles' etc., or whether one
addresses 'natural' constraints (i.e., constraints resulting from
cognitive and communicative parameters).
Perhaps the most crucial aspect of Abaza morphosyntax is represented by
its system of 'agreement' present with verbal structures. O'Herin nicely
summarizes the basic facts, that is what he calls 'Ergative Case
assignment' (p.49) and 'Absolutive agreement' (p.63). [Unfortunately, he
does not use a parallel terminology for both strategies (2.2. vs. 2.3)].
In addition, he informs on the paradigmatically salient opposition of
dynamic vs. stative, as well as on some relevant phenomena related to the
cluster Tense-Aspect-Mood. After a brief presentation of the underlying
framework (see above), O'Herin -- in chapter 2 -- turns to Basic Case
Assignment (pp. 43-90). This "core chapter" (p.4) describes and analyses
the above mentioned agreement patters of Abaza, as illustrated in the
following examples (p.47, 55, 58, 63, 64, 237, glosses modified; DIR =
'She will see you (pl.).'
'You (pl) killed him/her.'
'She will give it to you (pl).'
'You (pl.) run.'
'S/he went with him for her.'
The assumption according to which we have to deal with two different sets
of agreement morphemes (S(ubjective)= O(bjective) vs. A(gentive)) turns
out to be highly problematic: In fact, the distinction between S=O (=
absolutive) and A (=ergative) becomes evident mainly in the third person,
but not in those morphemes that encode speech act participants, compare
the following paradigm of 'personal' prefixes:
1sg s(ë)- s(ë)(~ z-)
2sg:m w- w-
2sg:f b(ë)- b(ë)-
3sg:m dë- y-
3sg:f dë- l(ë)-
3sg:nhum y- ~ NULL (n)a-
1pl h/(ë)- h/(ë)
2pl sh*(ë)- sh*(ë)- (~ zh*(ë)-)
3pl y- rë-
It comes clear that the formal opposition ABS vs. ERG is present with the
third person, but not with a second and a first person. Here, the
positional arrangement becomes crucial, compare (field notes):
'I love you (sg, masc.)'
'You (sg, masc.) love me.'
In other words: The alleged ergativity of Abaza is confined to mainly the
third person, or the 'non-personne', to use a term coined by É.
Benveniste. Thus Abaza conforms (at least synchronically) to the well-
known person/agentivity hierarchy (the so-called Silverstein Hierarchy).
From this it follows that positional parameters are more salient than the
degree of formal distinction. In this, Abaza comes amazingly close to e.g.
Athapaskan languages, compare Chiricahua (Pinnow 1988:37):
nishbéézh < *ni-sh-l/-béézh
'I cook you (sg.)'
shíl/béézh < *shi-ni-l/-béézh
'You (sg.) cook me.'
In addition, it should be noted that in Abaza, ergative strategies are
strongly coupled with anaphoric constructions. Speech Act Participants do
not occur as overt pronouns except for emphasis, whereas any third person
prefix cross-references a deictic or nominal segment. Crucially, a third
person non-human referent is not cross-referenced on the verb in case it
immediately precedes the verb (p.20), compare (p.20, glosses modified):
sara a-msh* s-ba-y-t'
I DEF-bear 1sg:A-see-PRES-DYN
'I see the bear.'
sara a-msh* shashta yë-s-ba-y-t'
I DEF-bear early 3sg:nhum:O-1sg:A-see-PRES-DYN
'I see the bear early.'
In sum, it comes clear that O'Herin's description of Abaza as an "ergative-
absolutive language" (p.75) is difficult to support. Rather, we should
speak of 'split ergativity' with respect to the domain 'Person'. In case
the superordinated strategy of word order is taken as a decisive
parameter, we should define 'ergativity' in terms of serialization
parameters (e.g. Schulze 2000), for instance:
Here, the diagnostic feature has to be defined as the left 'word border'
to arrive at an ergative strategy (S=O vs. A). There are several
additional arguments that support the claim according to which Abaza
is 'configured' in terms of an ergative strategy. But none of them is
directly connected to the category of Case.
Chapter 3 turns to 'Stative Predicates' (pp.91-124). Stative verbs are
differently tense/mood-framed than dynamic verbs, an opposition that is
well-documented for all West Caucasian languages. Most importantly,
stative verbs may be intransitive and transitive. Note that the decision
whether a verb is stative or dynamic does not necessarily depend from the
actual semantics of the verb. On p.93, O'Herin points out that for
instance the verb -c*ëmagh- 'hate' is stative, whereas its 'positive
correlate', -bzëyba- 'love' is dynamic. He correctly refers to the
original (i.e. historical) reading of the two verbs: 'love' is dynamic,
because it originally meant 'to see well', and 'hate' is stative, because
it originally meant 'be one's enemy'. This example sufficiently
illustrates that actual syntactic frames are not necessarily motivated
(and processed) on a synchronic level. In fact, all synchronically
transitive stative verbs seem to result from the reanalysis or
metaphorization of former intransitive constructions, which may involve
not only verbs, but also nouns, adjectives, and so-called postpositions.
An example for the non-verbal use of stative constructions is (p. 94,
glosses are modified):
'S/He is with the sheep.'
In fact, we have to deal with the grammaticalized version of an older
copula construction (copula *wp' (non-Past), *-n (Past)). Again, if we
start from this diachronic scenario, much of what O'Herin discusses for
stative verbs in terms of formal grammar becomes immediately transparent.
Nevertheless, O'Herin's analysis helps to better understand the dimension
of stative constructions in Abaza, just because it offers important data
hitherto less observed.
Chapter 4 addresses the question of Causatives (pp.125-165). Abaza is
marked for highly productive strategies to morphologically mark causative
constructions (prefix r-). The position of the causative morpheme
(immediately before the root) suggests that we have to deal with a
derivational strategy rather with an inflectional pattern. In fact, the
serialization of 'agreement' prefixes corresponds to that of transitive
structures, compare (p.127, glosses are modified):
'It makes him/her think'
With transitive verbs, the pattern is O - A' - A - CAUS - V (I use A' to
indicate the fact that the embedded agent or causee is encoded with the
agentive/ergative morphemes, compare (p.133, glosses again modified):
'I had her cut it.'
O'Herin aims at elaborating the verbal nature of the -r-Causative, which
is said to account for the agreement patterns just described. From the
point of view of Caucasian linguistics, such an assumption unnecessarily
complicates the matter. It is a well-known pattern in some other languages
to use instrumental/causal features to encode let-causation. In this
sense, the sentence above would read: 'With/because-of me, she cuts it.'
In other words: the segment -së-r- represents nothing but a heavily
grammaticalized, postpositional structure that later became incorporated
into the verbal frame. There is one phenomenon, which might go against
this analysis: O'Herin (p.138-9) shows that with a 3pl embedded agent
(usually r(ë)-), dissimilation occurs, e.g. (p.138):
'He caused them to see it.' (= He showed it to them')
This type of dissimilation does not occur e.g. with incorporated
postposition, compare (p.138):
'They said it to them.'
Nevertheless, it should be noted that the two patterns are not alike. The
causative pattern mentioned above posits the causee in front of the
causer, but not before the 'subject' of the postpositional phrase.
Although assimilation and dissimilation may occasionally be motivated by a
syntactic arrangement, it is rather unlikely that we have to deal with a
synchronically 'transparent' type of dissimilation. This comes also true
from the fact that the same 'process' can be observed in Abkhaz. Most
likely, the dissimilation had already been fossilized in the time of the
Abkhaz-Abaza unit that is roughly some 1500 years ago (if ever it had been
a dissimilation at all).
After having discussed reflexive strategies, O'Herin turns to 'Derived
Inversion' in chapter 5 (pp. 167-191). Here, the author considers
derivational patterns that are marked for the 'inversion' of agreement
patterns. This includes for instance the Potential, marked by a prefix -z
(ë)-, compare (p.168):
'I was able to give it to her.'
Here, the agentive morpheme has drifted further to the left, opening
a 'slot' that may for instance be exploited by an IO prefix. Contrary to
O'Herin's view, I cannot really see that inversion would be at work. The
main point is that the IO-domain drifts to the right. The same holds for
the Potential of Causatives, e.g. (p.189):
'I was able to make her eat it.'
The fact that the embedded agent undergoes the same shift as it occurs
with the IO of a ditransitive verb (see above), gives us another clue for
determining the nature of the embedded agent in causative constructions.
Accordingly, we would have to deal with an IO (Indirect Object(ive))
rather than with an 'ergative' agreement marker (just as it is true for
instance for the distantly related language Kabardian). As for the
Potential, O'Herin suggests (in simplified, non-formal terms) that the
marker -z/ë)- functions as some kind of 'capability auxiliary' followed by
the lexical complex. Literally, the above mentioned example isëzlëtat' (y-
së-z-lë-ta-t') would read: 'it I could her give' (instead of a non-
inversed reading *'it her I would give' (*y-lë-s-zë-ta-t'), compare y-lë-s-
ta-t' 'I gave it to her'). This auxiliary hypothesis, which in fact is
said to hold for the causative, too, is rather attractive - however, up to
now, it lacks clear historical evidence.
Chapter 6 deals with what O'Herin calls 'Lexically Inverted Verbs' (pp.193-
211). In this brief, nevertheless extremely interesting section, the
author turns to a class of superficially transitive verbs that are marked
for the inversion of the position of A and O functions. Such verbs (among
them 'bite', 'touch', strike, hit', attack, forgive', 'help' and 'shoot
at') are said to have Inherent Case just as it is assumed for e.g.
German 'ich helfe dir (dative)' 'I help you'. AN example for the framing
type in Abaza is (p.196, glosses again modified):
'We attack him (the enemy).'
It comes clear that, here, Abaza uses the set of 'absolutive' prefixes
instead of the standard 'ergative' series to encode A. O'Herin correctly
suggests that "inverted verbs in Abaza are parallel to the dative verbs of
Russian and German" (p.196). From a functional point of view, the verb
frame mentioned above represents nothing but fossilized antipassives,
AP: S-IO-V (AP: A>S, O>IO)
Antipassives are well-known in related Circassian and Kabardian, compare
for Kabardian (e.g. Colarusso 1992b:177). The IO-character of the 'former
O' becomes immediately evident, if we have a look at the Potential. Here,
again, the so-called Object prefix (i.e., the IO prefix) shifts to the
right of the Potential prefix:
'I can hit him.'
In chapter 7, O'Herin discusses 'Postposition Incorporation' (pp.213-248).
The author carefully analyses the relevant data that are marked for the
incorporation of a postpositional complex into the prefix chain (PP-S-V or
O-PP-A-V). Semantically speaking, this strategy concerns Benefactives,
Adversatives, Comitatives, Locatives, and Instrumentals. A simple example
'I drank it for her.'
This process, which is well-known e.g. from Athapaskan languages, seems to
be linked to (among others) the parameter of definiteness: In case
the 'subject' of a postposition is marked for (strong) indefiniteness,
incorporation applies. This tendency goes together with the preference for
(pro)nominals carrying strong reference not to be incorporated (p.224). In
fact, the incorporation conditions nicely meet the basic typology set up
by Mithun 1984.
Finally, O'Herin turns to Wh-Agreement (chapter 8, pp.249-276). The author
observes: "When an argument is [+wh], the agreement with that argument is
realized as wh-agreement. This places wh-agreement squarely within the
normal agreement paradigm" (p.250). Crucially, wh-agreement is also
present e.g. with relative clauses. This fact sets Abaza apart for
instance from the East Caucasian language Udi which knows wh-agreement
only for questions (see e.g. Harris 2002). The general Abaza wh-marker is z
(ë)- (A=IO) and y(ë)- (S=O). Examples are (252, 252, 252, glosses
modified; Q = 'wh-agreement marker'):
a-c*wal yac'*ëya yë-ta-wa
DEF-sack what Q:S-be=in-PRES:STAT
'What is in the sack?'
dëzda s-axcja zë-ghëcj
who 1sg(:A)-money Q:A-steal(:PAST)
'Who stole my money?'
ismir dzac*wëya yë-r-ba-k*a-z
Izmir who Q:O-3pl:A-see-PL-PAST
'Whom did they see in Izmir?'
Just as it to be expected from the linguistics of the given area, Abaza
prefers to place wh-words in the preverbal focus field. O'Herin nicely
analyses this positional preference without, however, alluding to the fact
that we have to deal with an areal phenomenon, common to many languages
spoken in and around the Northern Caucasus. Unfortunately, the author does
not ouch upon the question of how and why the special wh-agreement pattern
has emerged. It is perhaps more than just a guess that both z(ë)- and y(ë)-
represent residues of older wh-words (pace Nikolaev & Starostin
1994:492). Note that the wh-agreement prefixes do not distinguish degrees
of animacy, whereas the overt wh-pronouns do (dëzda ~ dzac'*ëya 'who' vs.
yac'*ëya 'what'). Relative clauses are clearly derived from wh-strategies.
Relative clauses operate in the same way as participle-based
relativization happens e.g. in Turkic languages, compare (p.260):
'The big stone that he threw....'
Still, note that the relative segment occurs to the left of its head,
whereas a (usually incorporated) attribute follows it.
Finally, O'Herin draws the reader's attention to a very interesting fact,
namely there is an alternative reading of yac'*ëya 'what' > 'why'. The use
of 'what' when asking for a reason is also know e.g. from German,
e.g. 'was guckst du?' ('why do you look (at me)'). In Abaza, the use of
the pronoun as a 'why'-marker is coupled with a special wh-agreement
morpheme, compare (p.265):
yac'*ëya (...) sh*-zë-në-m-xa-wa
what>why (...) 2pl:S-Q-PV-NEG-work-PRES:NEG
'Why don't you work [even harder]?'
The morpheme is z(ë)- and thus equals the standard Q:A. Unfortunately,
O'Herin does not give us an explicit transitive construction (e.g. 'why do
you kill the horse?'). Still, the examples given by the author suggest
that the Q-marker in why-constructions actually plays the role of the
agentive, 'demoting' the standard personal agreement prefix to the
Objective. Hence, the example above would read: 'What makes you not to
work [harder].' This analysis goes together with the fact that the 'why'-
reading of the pronoun presupposes that it is placed clause-initially,
that is in just the place that usually is occupied by an overt A-referent.
In terms of cognitive linguistics, we have to deal with the
metaphorization of 'what' as a 'reason-related agent'.
Unfortunately, O'Herin's book lacks a summary or a concluding chapter.
Especially those readers who are unacquainted with the marvelous world of
West Caucasian languages may have difficulties to arrive at a more general
picture of the morphosyntax of Abaza. O'Herin has put much effort in
giving a detailed account of what is actually going on in the language.
The wealth of data (which often include new material) is coupled with a
highly sophisticated analysis which sets the reader at risk to concentrate
more on details than 'on the whole'. Still, it is my deepest conviction
that without understanding the overall strategies and 'mechanisms' of a
language (together with their communicative and historical settings), the
analysis of particular phenomena may rest episodic.
The reader would perhaps have welcomed the illustration of Abaza with the
help of a longer text, fully glossed and commented upon with the help of
the analyses presented in the book. I am well aware of the fact that such
a presentation would not be in the scope of the formal framework adopted
by the author. Still, I assume without a closer look at the organization
of textual data (in terms of 'context'), much of what O'Herin proposes in
his highly sophisticated and undoubtedly learned analysis remains
fragmentary. For instance, pragmatic strategies, the interaction of TAM-
framing and clausal organization, variation in the degree of
referentialization etc. only become apparent if textual embedding is
considered. O'Herin surely has an impressive knowledge of Abaza, at least
as far as the synchronic layer is concerned. His data are accurate, well-
chosen and highly illustrative. Nevertheless, many questions remain open.
In this sense, the book cannot serve as an introduction into the
morphosyntax (and morphosemantics and morphopragmatics) of the language,
nor does it replace what may be called the pragmasyntax of Abaza. The
reader will certainly enjoy the scrutiny of the analyses, as well as the
careful and balanced arguments put forward by the author in his analyses.
However, as I have pointed out in the beginning of this review, the
framework adopted by the author hinders him from approaching alternative
explanatory perspectives. Here, it would perhaps have been wise if O'Herin
had more frequently consulted grammatical and typological work on other
(West) Caucasian languages, readily available on the market. This holds
both for synchrony and diachrony. In fact, at least some of the phenomena
explained by the author in terms of the Principles and Parameters
framework, reflect older layers of the language, the functionality of
which can today be only viewed in terms of 'habitualized routines' (or
fossilized strategies). The decision to base his analysis on the 'formal
paradigm' may help to bring further progress to this framework. But at the
same time, the book becomes less useful for those who take a more
Nevertheless, it is a great pleasure to read the book (once one has
adopted the formal framework). Even functionalists, 'business-as-usual'
typologists, and cognitive linguistics will enjoy the impressive wealth of
data that will undoubtedly contribute to the revision of some
generalizations hitherto thought to be 'standard'. In addition,
specialists in Caucasian linguistics are strongly motivated by O'Herin's
data to take up the enterprise to unearth hitherto neglected categories
and functional domains in other (West) Caucasian languages. In this sense,
the book, which by itself is extremely well-done, must be welcomed. The
only point the reader should be aware of is the fact that it does not (and
probably cannot) tell the whole story. It is an important contribution to
the morphosyntax of Abaza, but it is (hopefully) not designed to be a
reference book of Abaza morphosyntax. At least the reader should not take
it as such.
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| ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Wolfgang Schulze is the Head of the Institute for General Linguistics and
Language Typology at the University of Munich. His main research topics
include Language Typology, Cognitive Typology, Historical Linguistics,
language contact, the languages of the Caucasus, of Inner Asia,
and 'Oriental' languages. He currently works on a Functional Grammar of
Udi, on the edition of the Caucasian Albanian Palimpsest from Mt. Sinai,
and on a comprehensive presentation of the framework of a 'Grammar of
Scenes and Scenarios' in terms of a 'Cognitive Typology'.