How do you pronounce biopic, synod, and Breughel? - and why? Do our cake and archaic sound the same? Where does the stress go in stalagmite? What's odd about the word epergne? As a finale, the author writes a letter to his 16-year-old self.
Date: Tue, 24 Jan 2006 18:06:21 +1100 From: Malcolm Ross Subject: Tobelo
AUTHOR: Holton, Gary TITLE: Tobelo SERIES: Languages of the World/Materials 328 PUBLISHER: Lincom GmbH YEAR: 2003
Malcolm Ross, Department of Linguistics, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, The Australian National University
This slim volume (iv + 99 pp) contains a sketch grammar (70 pages), texts (27 pages), and a bibliography (2 pages) of Tobelo, a Papuan language of the West Papuan family. Tobelo is spoken in parts of northern Halmahera, an island in eastern Indonesia to the northwest of New Guinea. Like other volumes in Lincom Europa's Languages of the World/Materials series, it offers an outline of the grammar which is aimed at readers with typological interests. It will also appeal to the much smaller readership of Papuanist linguists.
The work has six parts. Part 0 (pp. 1-4) is an introduction which places the language in its geographic, social and linguistic environment and briefly surveys previous studies. Part 1 (pp. 4-12) is a sketch of the phonology, with notes on differences between the dialect described and other Tobelo dialects. It provides a brief account of the phonemes, vowel sequences, syllable structure, stress and morphophonemics.
Part 2 (pp. 12-30) describes Tobelo's lexical categories: nominals (inc. pronouns and proper names), verbs, property concept words, and minor lexical categories (adverbs, numerals and a preposition). Two points of typological interest stand out in Part 2. Pages 17-19 and 27- 28 outline respectively the subsystems of demonstratives and of directional locative adverbs, and these provide a first glimpse of the complex directional system which occurs in Tobelo. The second point, made albeit briefly on pp. 22-23, is that property concept words do not form a lexical category of adjectives, but are a collection of roots which, depending on context, behave morphosyntactically as both nouns and verbs (the author has written about this in Holton 1999).
Part 3 (pp. 30-48) deals with morphology. Tobelo morphology is not particularly complex, but it is pervasive insofar as every occurrence of every word of a major lexical category is graced by a bound morpheme which indicates the word's lexical category, as well as serving other functions. Part 3 thus has subsections on the morphology of nouns and verbs and on category-independent morphology. Every noun is marked by one of the prefixes o- and ma- (pp 30-32: I return to this below), every verb by a subject co- referencing prefix. If the verb is transitive, the subject prefix is followed by an object co-referencing prefix. Interestingly, the single argument of an intransitive verb is coreferenced by a subject prefix if the verb is semantically dynamic, but by an object prefix if it is stative (pp 37-39). In the latter case, the object prefix follows a third-person non-human subject prefix, functioning as a dummy. This sequence of dummy subject prefix and argument-coreferencing object prefix is also used as a construction which is functionally similar to an agentless passive (p67; see also example 290). Hence a sequence of subject prefix and object prefix is found with transitive, stative and passive-like verbs.
The subsection on category-independent morphology covers aspectual suffixes, negation and directional suffixes.
Part 4 (pp. 48-71) describes Tobelo syntax. There are subsections on the noun phrase, the directional system, word order, grammatical relations, simple and complex clauses, and discourse phenomena. Some of these subsections serve to pull together various threads introduced in Parts 2 and 3. This is particularly true of the subsection on the directional system (pp 50-53), which involves demonstratives, locative adverbs and directional suffixes but encodes a single system of semantic contrasts involving a seaward-landward axis and an
upward-downward axis. This system is significant in that it entails speakers specifying direction in many circumstances where other languages would not require it. Such systems are apparently quite widespread in languages of eastern Indonesia, however, whether Papuan or Austronesian (see van Staden 2001, Bowden 2002).
Part 5 (pp. 71-97) comprises two texts, one narrative, the other procedural.
My evaluation of this work falls into two distinct parts: content and presentation.
With regard to content, Holton provides us with a typologically informed account of Tobelo, and squeezes a remarkable quantity of information into 70 pages. He is able to do this because his analysis is thorough and allows him to make categorical statements, and because most of the time he has a fine command of the appropriate linguistic terms. The small criticisms below should not be seen as outweighing the generally excellent quality of the work.
As my description of the content above hopefully indicates, Tobelo has some features of considerable typological interest. One is the directional system, and Holton describes this well within the obvious constraints of such a sketch. Another interesting feature is the morphological behaviour of property concept words. Here the author seems to assume that he need not provide a description because he has published on it elsewhere. This is a pity, as it leaves the reader ignorant of when a property concept word behaves like a verb and when like a noun. Across languages it is common enough for property concept words to be verbs or to be nouns, but it is less usual for the same property concept roots to display both behaviours in a single language, and a more detailed account of this phenomenon would thus have been appropriate. A third matter of interest is how a speaker chooses between the noun markers o- and ma-. As far as I can see, this question is not answered, although we are given hints. Example 165 shows then when a generic referent is first introduced in discourse, it is marked with o-, and on its second mention it is marked with ma-. This is intriguing, as the example shows that the distinction is not one of specificity or definiteness, as Holton notes on page 67. He hints on page 66 that o- is used for first mentions and is therefore referential indefinite, but this is evidently not the whole story, as it tells us little about the status of ma-. We are also shown that ma- is used instead of a possessor prefix when the possessor is non-human (pp. 32, 49).
Linguistic infelicities are very few. One concerns the use of an applicative prefix to 'reference' an instrumental argument. We are told that because the instrumental argument is not coreferenced by a prefix on the verb, 'the object remains an oblique' (p. 42). This is an odd statement. If the coreness of an argument is defined only by the presence of a coreferencing prefix, then what is the function of the applicative prefix? It is surely to render the instrument a core argument, its coreness being marked in this instance by the applicative prefix rather than by a coreferencing prefix.
A possible infelicity of a different kind is the assertion that certain Tobelo features are 'contact-induced Austronesian features ' (p3). Such statements are common in the literature, but it is impossible to substantiate them. Holton says that among the North Halmahera languages Tobelo is the most conservative in its retention of non- Austronesian (i.e. Papuan) typological features. This might or might not be true, but the assertion presupposes that the history of the West Papuan family is well known, and it isn't. Furthermore, its relationship (if any) with other Papuan families is unknown, so we can have little idea which morphosyntactic features are inherited and which copied through contact. Holton takes the presence of subject prefixes on verbs to be 'Papuan'. He may well be right, but other specialists in the region would disagree, as such prefixes are the norm in local Austronesian languages. He assumes that the inclusive/exclusive distinction in first-person plural pronouns and the directional system are of Austronesian origin, but the inclusive/exclusive distinction is not uncommon among Papuan languages, and directional systems like the one in Tobelo crop up in Papuan and Austronesian languages from eastern Indonesia eastward into western Oceania. As Austronesian- speakers settled the region from west to east, this allows an inference that such directional systems were present in the Papuan languages of eastern Indonesia and were copied by Austronesian-speakers as they moved through the region.
The presentation of the book detracts sadly from its content. The reduction of evident A4 typesetting by 50% to an A5 page-size makes reading a real physical effort, as the Times font is effectively only 8- point size (the usual publisher's size is 11-point). This is compounded by a strange typsetting glitch which frequently introduces a space after the first character of a word. When several such gaps occur in a line, readability is severely affected. For example, on page 39: 'As n oted i n s ection 4.8.1 o nly referential p articipants m ay b e i ndexed u sing t he o bjective paradigm.'
There are signs that the final copy was not proofread. How else could 'know' appear for 'known' in the first line of the text on page 1?! I will not list further English typos (they are many). On p. 11 -aoikoka appears in apparent error for (I assume) -aikoka. I am left wondering what typos occur elsewhere in the Tobelo examples.
There are just a few errors that were evidently already in the submitted electronic manuscript. On p. 18 we are told that 'there is no downward punctual demonstrative', but it is present in the table immediately above this statement. It is the downward areal demonstrative that is missing. On p. 32 we find 'proceeded' where 'preceded' was intended.
It is a little distressing that a piece of work of pleasing quality should be rendered so troublesome to read by poor typesetting and miniscule print size. I have no doubt, however, that it will finish up on many linguists' bookshelves, as it is a well-organised sketch which contains valuable information.
Bowden, John (2002) Taba: Description of a South Halmahera Austronesian language. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.
Holton, Gary (1999) Categoriality of property words in a switch- adjective language. Linguistic Typology 3: 341-360.
Staden, Miriam van (2000) Tidore: a linguistic description of a language of the north Moluccas. PhD dissertation, University of Leiden.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Malcolm Ross is a professor in the Department of Linguistics in the Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies at the Australian National University in Canberra. His interests include the Austronesian and Papuan languages of the New Guinea region and the Austronesian languages of Taiwan, with a particular focus on the linguistic histories of these regions.