LINGUIST List 15.1249

Mon Apr 19 2004

Review: Typology/Lang Description: Mattissen (2003)

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  1. Wolfgang Schulze, Dependent-Head-Synthesis in Nivkh

Message 1: Dependent-Head-Synthesis in Nivkh

Date: Sun, 18 Apr 2004 16:28:05 -0400 (EDT)
From: Wolfgang Schulze <>
Subject: Dependent-Head-Synthesis in Nivkh

AUTHOR: Mattissen, Johanna
TITLE: Dependent-Head-Synthesis in Nivkh
SUBTITLE: A contribution to a typology of polysynthesis
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins Publishing Company
SERIES: Typological Studies in Language 57
YEAR: 2003
Announced at

Wolfgang Schulze, IATS, University of Munich.

d' = Heavily palatalized alveolar voiced stop (> affricate)
e^ = High central vowel
g^ = Vocied velar fricative
gh = Voiced uvular fricative
G = Voiced uvular stop
kh = Aspirated voiceless velar stop
n' = Palatal nasal
ng = Velar nasal
r^ = Voiceless dento-alveolar trill
t' = Heavily palatalized alveolar voiceless stop (> affricate)
th = Aspirated dento-alveolar voiceless stop
x^ = Voiceless uvular fricative


Nivkh (also known by its xenonym Gilyak) represents a highly
endangered language spoken (in terms of four dialects) by roughly
1.000 people in the Lower Amur basin, along the mouth of the Amur
River, and in the coastal regions of Sakhalin. The varieties spoken on
the mainland are characterized by a relatively strong impact from
adjacent Tunguso-Manchu (Sangi 1988:195, also see Burykin 1988). Up to
now, no convincing hypothesis has been put forward that would help to
illuminate the genetic affiliation of Nivkh, which hence has to be
classified as an 'isolated' language.

Documentary work on Nivkh started as early as 1854-6, when
L. v. Schreck and P. v. Glehn led an expedition into the Amur and
Sakhalin regions (some results were published by Wilhelm Grube in
1892). Roughly, by the same time, Pere L. Fure and Kausake Okamoto
published short word lists of Nivkh. Still, it took another 70 years,
until Akira Nakanome published a first grammatical treatment of the
language (Nakanome 1927). Today, standard reference grammars are
Panfilov 1962/65 and Gruzdeva 1998.

To my knowledge, the book under review (henceforth 'DHSN') is the
first comprehensive look at the morphosyntax of Nivkh from a
typological perspective (Russek 1996, too, has taken this
perspective. Unfortunately, her thesis has remained unpublished). It
represents the revised version of Johanna Mattissen's University of
Cologne PhD thesis (2001). The author (henceforth 'J.M.') develops her
analyses with the help of a broad textual data base (published texts,
grammars, individual studies, usually stemming from the Amur
varieties) and 'mediated' fieldwork (carried out by Hidetoshi
Shiraishi). The book aims at discussing in details a hotspot of Nivkh
linguistics, namely the question of polysynthesis (in its broadest
sense). J.M. delimits the organization principles of Nivkh
morphosyntax from standard polysynthesis as follows: ''[A] single
homogeneous structural principle is active in Nivkh. This principle
consist of a systematic and consistent synthesis of heads and their
dependents under adjacency in the order dependent-head (...) and leads
to the complex word forms characteristic of Nivkh'' (p.1). To
illustrate the degree of synthesis that is characteristic of Nivkh,
let me quote an example from Gruzdeva 1998, also given by
J.M. (p.149):

t'ig^r-park-e^vr-thar^u-gu-ve (Gruzdeva 1998:39)
'If only you would chop firewood!'
[CST = Causative, IMP.p = Imperative Plural; see above for the phonetic

Nevertheless, it should be noted that not every Nivkh clause is marked
for such a high degree of synthesis, as shown by the following
examples (p.8):

he^-n'ivg^-gu mur-gir-ko qan-gir-ko phre^-d'-g^u
that-preson-PL horse-INS-ASC.p dog-INS-ASC.p come-IND/NML-PL
'Those people came by horses and dogs.'
[PL = Plural, INS = Instrumental, ASC = correlative-associative, IND/NML
= Indicative/Nominalization]

The overall presence of synthesis strategies in Nivkh necessitates
that any description of this feature has to consider a vast range of
grammatical features, including morphophonology and pragmatics. In
this sense, the reader of DHSN can rightly expect to learn not only
about synthesis in Nivkh together with its typological setting, but
also about the main aspects of the grammatical architecture of
Nivkh. In this sense, the book follows a currently well-established
tendency, namely to use a typologically salient parameter crucial for
the grammatical organization of a language to do two things at the
same time: discuss the parameter itself and present its overall
relevance for the functioning of a grammatical system. This double
orientation makes DHSN very useful for both the general audience and
people interested in Nivkh itself.


J.M.'s treatise is organized in ten chapters, preceded by a
comprehensive list of abbreviations and 'acknowledgements'. The book
ends with an 'appendix' (to chapter 3.4), a list of references, and an
extremely helpful 'bibliography on Nivkh' (roughly some 400
titles). Chapter 1 (pp.1-34) is entitled 'Introduction' and offers
basic information about both the socio-linguistic setting of Nivkh
speakers and the general architecture of Nivkh grammar. Typologically
speaking, Nivkh ''shows affinities to Chukchi, Ainu, and Native
American languages'' (p.5). Technically speaking, Nivkh is a both
prefix- and suffix-agglutinating language furnished with
well-elaborated paradigms of nominal and verbal inflection. Nouns lack
gender or class indication, but make frequent use of deictic prefixes
in terms of locational determiners. Singular possessors (as well as
reflexive possessors) can be marked in terms of pronominal prefixes
which reflect proclitic variants (or 'clipped forms', Austerlitz 1959)
of the corresponding personal pronouns. There are no relational cases
(the core relations being expressed with the help of synthesis
grading). However, Nivkh knows a number of basically locative case
forms (strongly reduced in Eastern Sakhalin) as well as a functionally
prominent 'instrumental' case (used to express secondary core
relations within the O(bjective) domain). Most locative case forms
have a strong tendency towards metaphorization (in the sense of
Schulze (in press)). J.M. also notes (p.120) that there is a recent
tendency to use the so-called 'causee' case as an accusative-like case
marker, obviously based on its use to encode a causee in causative
constructions, compare:

if j-ax kepr-gu-d' (Panfilov 1962:248)
'He made him stop' > 'He stopped him.'

Most importantly, Nivkh operates through a great number of so-called
'relational morphemes' (p.10) or former postpositions that have
'entered' the agglutination chain (in terms of layered morphology, see
Mithun 1999). Verbs do not indicate the S/A-domain, but have a slot
for referents in O-function. In addition, a number of TAM-related
morphemes are added to the verbal stem. Most importantly, the initial
consonant of a verbal stem can undergo systematic changes in contact
with preceding vowels or consonants. As the segment preceding the stem
usually is a unit in O-function, these changes are strongly
correlation with transitivity. An example taken from Krejnovic^
1937:27 is:

qan r^u-d'
dog run=after-IND/NML
'The dog takes up the chase'

qan qanthud'
[qan qan-r^u-d']
dog dog-run=after-IND/NML
'The dog runs after a dog.'

t'x^an n'sangGanthud'
[t'i-qan n'i-t'ang-qan-r^u-d']
2sg-dog 1sg-white-dog-run=after-IND/NML
'Your (sg.) dog runs after my white dog.'

Another salient feature of Nivkh is the fact that two converbs can be
marked for person:

jang phr^e^-g-t ezmu-d (p.32)
3sg come-CST-cv:1sg rejoice-IND/NML
'I was happy that he came' (lit. 'I rejoiced letting him come')

Note that the paradigm of person marked converbs is rather
exceptional: The cluster (2/3sg) contrasts with the cluster

As J.M. puts it ''[d]ependent-head synthesis is the principle
operative for the encoding of possessors, attributes, objects and
complement clauses in Nivkh'' (p.33). Accordingly, most syntactic
features alluded to in the 'Introduction' are elaborated in more
details in the other chapters of DHSN.

Chapter 2 (pp.35-64)turns to Nivkh phonology and morphophonemics. As
has been said already above, Nivkh is characterized by complex Sandhi
phenomena that always affect the initial sound of a head and are
triggered by the final sound of the preceding dependent segment,
compare zud' 's.o. washes' > te^mk-zud' 's.o. washes his hands',
nge^g^s-t'ud' 's.o. cleans her teeth', n'e^ng-d'ud' 's.o. washes us'
etc. (p.50). J.M. carefully examines the relevant alternation
patterns and arrives at a very helpful classification of the complex
alternation patterns, which serve as a diagnostic feature for the
question of wordhood, discussed in Chapter 3 (pp. 65-121). The author
considers phonological features (syllable structures, phonotactics,
morphophonemics, stress placement), morphological features, and what
she calls 'psychological reality' (Nivkh speakers' judgment upon
wordhood). In addition, she makes extensive use of non-Nivkh data to
both delimit and contextualize the Nivkh findings. She concludes:
''[There] is sufficient evidence for recognizing Nivkh complexes as
single morphological words'' (p.121).

J.M. subdivides the discussion of Nivkh synthesis operations into five
chapters. Chapter 4 (pp.122-168) addresses the 'Nivkh noun plus verb
complex', that is what is commonly known as O(bjective) incorporation.
There are two verb classes in Nivkh, one of which (mono/ditransitives)
is obligatorily marked for synthesis. This class can again be
subdivided into several, morphophonologically determined subclasses
(pending on the type of initial segment of the verb
stem). Structurally, J.M. distinguishes five valency classes three of
which (avalents, intransitives, intransitives with peripheral
participant) do not participate in the dependent-head synthesis as
heads (p.136). With monotransitive verbs, various types of
'undergoers' can enter the synthesis 'slot' (patient, product, theme,
location, comparational triggers). Ditransitive verbs having two
undergoers can be divided into two classes: a) patient/theme +
recipient; b) patient/theme + goal. Crucially, synthesis takes place
according to the parameter 'primary object' (O (monotransitive) + IO
(ditransitive)). But note that the primary object principle is
occasionally violated, as in:

n'i Xevgun t'aqo-asqam-d' (p.146)
I Xevgun knife-take=away-IND/NML
'I take the knife from Xevgun'

(instead of ?*n'i t'aqo Xevgun-asqam-d'). J.M. refers to Russian as a
possible source for this type of synthesis. After having monitored
properties of referential segments in synthesis, J.M. discusses
'non-synthesization of undergoer and verb', that is constraints on the
primary object synthesis. As expected, these constraints mainly
concern coordination, topicalization/focus and demotion. An example
for primary object demotion is (p.165).

e^me^k karandas ph-oghla-khim-d'
mother pencil REFL-child-give-IND/NML
'Mother gave her child a pencil.'

e^me^k ph-oghla-dox karandas i-mg^-d'-ra
mother REFL-child-ALL pencil 3sgU-give-IND/NML-HILI
'Mother gave a pencil to her child.'
[REFL = Reflexive, ALL = Allative, U = undergoer, HILI = Highlighting

Primary object synthesis naturally raises the question whether we have
to deal with noun incorporation. J.M. addresses this issue in Chapter
5 (pp.169-181). She carefully discusses the well-known parameters of
incorporation and concludes that synthesis does not reflect noun
incorporation, but rather results from ''dependent-head synthesis
operating in the governee-governor relationship'' (p.181).

A true highlight of J.M.'s book is the discussion of verb-verb
synthesis that comes close to what in generally known as verb
serialization (Chapter 6, pp.182-201). An example is:

n'i vi-pher-d' (p.189)
I go-(be=)tired-IND/NML
'Walking, I got tired.'

Obviously, most of these constructions result in some kind of 'manner
conflation', ending up in lexicalized forms of verb root serialization
(e.g. in'-mangg-d' (eat-strong-IND/NML) > s.o. is voracious' (p.193)).

In Chapter 7 (pp. 202-219), J.M. asks the question: ''Nivkh - A
polysynthetic language?'' Although Nivkh certainly qualifies for a
number of features typologically tested for polysynthesis (see
Fortescue 1994, Drossard 1997, Evans & Sasse 2002), J.M. again
stresses that it the dependent-head template that accounts for the
Nivkh synthesis strategy.

The Nivkh section of DHSN ends with Chapter 8 (pp.220-248) that
discusses features of synthesis within the Nivkh nominal complex. It
is important to note that for instance with personal 'pronouns',
synthesis conditions a shift in function, compare (p.220):

n'i e^t'x
I old=man
'I, the old man'

'my old man'

A complex example of NP-internal synthesis is (p.223):

te^m-bal-ngur^-mi n'-wo-ra
this-mountain-heart-inside 1sg-village HILI
'Inside these mountains is my village.'

Qualifying attributes usually are verbs and thus synthesize in terms
of verb-noun clusters. The verbal attribute may be marked as a
participle (-n-, Sakhalin) which causes nasal alternation. In
addition, a suffix -la- can precede this marker denoting some kind of
'permanent property', compare um-n'ivx 'furious-person'
vs. um-la-n'ivx 'nasty (= always furious)-person'. Verbal attribution
can render relativization. A relativized noun can then again be
synthesized with the verb in case it has primary object function. A
nice example is (p.236):

n'i phi zosq-t'aqo-ve^kz-d'
I REFL break-knife-throw=away-IND/NML
'I threw away the knife which I had broken.'

Note that here, the reflexive pronoun does not become synthesized, as
opposed to non-complex NPs, compare the following example taken from
Krejnovic^ 1966:44:

n'i ph-ranr-khez-d'
I REFL-sister-speak-IND/NML
'I have spoken to my sister.'

Obviously, the non-synthesization of phi is conditioned by the fact
that it takes 'subject' function (in the relative clause). Recall that
synthesis never affects nominals in S(ubjective)/A(gentive) function
in Nivkh.

In Chapter 9 (pp. 249-272), J.M. contextualizes Nivkh NP-internal
synthesis by elaborating an extremely valuable study on 'complex noun
forms in the world's languages'. Basically, this study aims at the
question whether complex noun forms can be considered as polysynthetic
or not. J.M. portrays a considerable number of languages with respect
to this question, discussing non-root bound morphemes, root
concatenation, and inflectional patters. The underlying question
cannot be answered even tentatively without approaching the notion of
polysynthesis itself. J.M. devotes Chapter 10 (pp.273-289) to this
problem. It is entitled 'Typological outlook' and summarizes the
findings in Nivkh aiming at an ''overall classification of word
complexity depending on its ingredients'' (p.272). J.M. correctly
states that ''polysynthesis in the traditional sense is a 'feeling'
rather than a clear-cut class'' (p.276). The author carefully examines
the different parameters set forth for polysynthesis with the help of
data from seventy-five languages. She arrives at two characteristic
'axes' that condition types of polysynthesis (a 'substantial' one
yield at the material under synthesis, and a 'structural' one that
separates templatic from scope-ordered types). By confronting the
typological findings with her Nivkh data, J.M. ends up with the
hypothesis that a structurally motivated principle of synthesis may
represent at least something different from what is generally known as
'polysynthesis'. Taking into account the fact that at least in Nivkh,
this principle also concerns complex noun forms, the author concludes:
''It seems to make sense to acknowledge the overall structural
principle as a type in its own right, perhaps even as a morphological
type, as it is superordinate to polysynthesis (as it is presently
understood)'' (p.289).


It is out of question that DHSN is a 'must' to read for all who are
interested in the question of intra-clausal concatenation strategies
from a typological point of view. In addition, the book serves another
important purpose, namely to introduce the linguistics of Nivkh to the
general audience in a way that brings the book close to a 'functional
description' of Nivkh. Sure, the book is not a reference grammar of
the language. For this, the reader should for instance turn to
Gruzdeva 1998. Still, the amazing wealth of data presented by
J.M. allows the reader to get a deep insight into the linguistics of
Nivkh that goes far beyond other comparable studies.

Perhaps, the book also profits from the fact that J.M. does not adhere
to a specific language or grammar theory. It follows the standards of
a typological paradigm (with an admittedly functional
perspective). Her approach is related to what can best be called an
'interpretative Basic Linguistic Theory' (iBLT) (modifying Dixon's
term (Dixon 1997)). This theory-neutral, nevertheless
category-sensitive approach guarantees that J.M.'s analyses are not
packed into a format that is at risk to lay more emphasis on the cover
than on the contents. DHSN is unbiased towards theoretical issues
without being atheoretical. This fact makes the book both a valuable
source book and an important contribution to general issues in
language typology. Nevertheless, the basically 'structural' approach
has its shortcomings, too. For instance, the chapter on wordhood
surely is an important issue from a purely structural point of view
that posits the existence of 'words' (what ever this may be) in
linguistic cognition. However, J.M. herself considers the possibility
(p.119) that the concept of wordhood is determined by cultural
(especially Western) traditions. The fact that wordhood is often
considered as a more or less universal feature of language perhaps
unnecessarily complicates the matter. If, for instance, we refer to
the concept of 'linguistic information units' (LIU) instead of 'word',
we are freed from positing rather complicated and often contradictory
parameters for 'words'. Such a cognitive perspective would perhaps
also help to account for the most important observation by J.M.,
namely the dependent-head condition for synthesis in Nivkh (and other
languages). In this sense, DHSN lays the ground for a more
theory-oriented explanation of this type of synthesis. It is out of
question that without the highly learnt and extremely thoughtful
approach presented by J.M. this type of explanation would never lurk
from beyond the horizon. In this brief review, I cannot illustrate
this point in more details, just as it is impossible to comment upon
every single claim or observation. Most likely, experts of those
languages that are included in J.M.'s typology, will not always agree
with the analyses presented by the author. Nevertheless, the book
sufficiently shows that a learnt typological embedding of
language-specific phenomena can serve at least three interests: The
inclusion of a hitherto less considered language in the dimension of
cross-linguistic argumentation, the evaluation and refinement of
typological generalizations, and - last but not least - the
reformulation of theoretical positions.

We have to thank J.M. for having prepared this wonderful and
stimulating book, which is formally well-done and accurate in the
presentation of both data and analyses.


Austerlitz, Robert (1959) Semantic Components of Pronominal Systems:
Gilyak. Word 15:102-109.

Burykin, A.A. (1988) Tunguso-man'c^z^uro-nivxskie svjazi i problema
genetic^eskoj prinadlez^nosti nivxskogo jazyka. In: Ju. A. Sem & A. I.
Gamilov (red.) Voprosy leksiki i sintaksisa jazykov narodov Krajnogo
Severa SSSR, 136-150. Leningrad: Leningradskij Ped. Inst.

Dixon, R.M.W. (1997) The rise and fall of languages. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.

Drossard, Werner (1997) Polysynthesis and polysynthetic languages in
comparative perspective. In: B. Palek (ed.). Proceddings of
Linguistics and Phonetics 1996, 251-264. Prague: Charles University

Evans, Nicholas & Hans-Juergen Sasse (eds.) (2002) Problems of
Polysynthesis. Berlin: Akademie.

Fortescue, Michael (1994) Morphology, polysynthetic. In: R.E. Asher &
M.Y. Simpson (eds.). The Encyclodpedia of Languages and Linguistics,
Vol. 5, 2600-2602. Oxford etc.: Pergamon Press.

Gruzdeva, E. Ju. (1998) Nivkh. Munich: Lincom.

Krejnovic^, E.A. (1937) Fonetika nivxskogo jazyka. Moskva / Leningrad:
Gosudarstvennoe uc^ebno-pedag. izd.

Krejnovic^, E.A. (1966) Ob inkorporirovanii i primykanii v nivxskom
jazyke. Voprosy Jazykoznanija 1966,3:36-51.

Mithun, Marianne (1999) The reordering of morphemes. In: S. Gildea
(ed.). Reconstructing Grammar. Comparative Linguistics and
Grammaticalization, 231-255. Amsterdam / Philadelphia: Benjamins.

Nakanome, Akira (1927) Grammatik der Nikbun Sprache (des
Giljakischen). Research Review of the Osaka Asiatic Society,
Vol. 5. Osaka: Osaka Asiatic Society.

Panfilov, V.Z. (1962/65) Grammatika nivxskogo jazyka. 2 Vols.
Moskva/Leningrad: Nauka.

Russek, Susanne (1996) Studien zur Morphosyntax des 'einfachen Satzes'
im Gilyak. Muenchen: IATS (MA thesis).

Sangi, V.M. (1988) Jazykovaja situacija na Saxaline i v nizov'jax
Amura. In: V.I. Bojko (otv. red.). Nivxi Saxalina: Sovremennoe
social'no-ekonomic^eskoe razvitie, 195-201. Novosibrisk: Nauka.

Schulze, Wolfgang (in press). Invariance, self-similarity and
metaphorization: The dynamics of case semantics in East Caucasian. In:
Antonio Barcelona, Klaus-Uwe Panther, Guenter Radden & Linda
L. Thorburg (eds.). Metonymy and Metaphor in Grammar. Amsterdam &
Philadelphia: Benjamins.


Wolfgang Schulze is the Head of the Institute for General Linguistics
and Language Typology at the University of Munich (German). His main
research topics include among others Language Typology, Cognitive
Typology, Historical Linguistics, language contact, the languages of
the Eastern Caucasus, and 'Oriental' languages. He currently works on
the edition of the Caucasian Albanian (Old Udi) Palimpsest from
Mt.Sinai, on a Functional (Cognitive) Grammar of Udi and on a
comprehensive presentation of the framework of a Grammar of Scenes and
Scenarios in terms of Cognitive Typology.
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