AUTHOR: Brassett, Cecilia; Brassett, Philip; Lu, Meiyan TITLE: The Tujia Language SERIES: Languages of the World/Materials 455 PUBLISHER: Lincom GmbH YEAR: 2006
Alena Witzlack-Makarevich, Institute of linguistics, University of Leipzig
This book is the first comprehensive description of the Tujia language in English. Tujia is a Tibeto-Burman language spoken by some 60.000 people in the northern half of Xiangxi Tujia and Miao Autonomous Prefecture in the north-western Hunan Province, China. Tujia comprises a northern and southern dialect, which are not mutually intelligible and which are spoken in geographically separate areas. The grammar focuses on the northern Tujia dialect.
This grammar is based on extensive fieldwork in Jishou City in Xiangxi Tujia and Miao Autonomous Prefecture. The corpus of data includes texts from some 20 speakers of both genders and a wide age range.
The authors, Cecilia and Philip Brassett, have already published two books on Tujia: an analysis of the sociolinguistic situation (Brassett & Brassett 2005a) and a description of history and culture of the Tujia people (Brassett & Brassett 2005b). Besides, they are the authors of the Tujia Language and Culture website (www.brassett.org.uk/tujia), which contains an extensive language archive. The other contributor, Meiyan Lu, is a native speaker of Tujia, whose expertise was instrumental in transcription and glossing of Tujia texts.
The book contains slightly more than 200 pages and is divided into 10 chapters and two appendices: an extensive Tujia-English glossary arranged by semantic fields and a collection of 3 annotated Tujia texts.
Chapters 1, entitled 'Introduction', provides a sociolinguistic and historical background of the Tujia language. The genetic affiliation of the language, which still remains unclear, is also briefly discussed. Tujia was previously thought to be a dialect of Chinese. In the earliest published descriptions of Tujia in China, it was described as being related to the languages in the Yi branch of the Lolo-Burmese subgroup (Wang, 1955). Tian et al. (1986) suggested it to be an isolate within Tibeto-Burman. Finally, He (2003) postulated that Tujia could be a member of the Qiang branch.
Chapter 2 'Phonology' starts with an inventory of Tujia phonemes and tone. Next, morphophonemic alternations are examined: tone sandhi, assimilation and deletion processes. Section 2.5 separately treats tone sandhi in classifiers and particles, where it occurs with great frequency. Section 2.6 'Orthography' introduces an experimental orthography, developed by the authors on the basis of standard Mandarin (Putonghua pinyin).
Chapter 3 'Lexicon' provides a brief insight into Tujia word structure and then describes various word formation devices (affixation, compounding, reduplication). Section 3.5 deals with Chinese loan words, historical periods and types of borrowing. Chinese loans are ubiquitous in the speech of Tujia speakers: in contemporary everyday speech their percentage rises to 20-30%.
Chapter 4 'Lexical categories' briefly discusses different types of nouns, pronouns, verbs, particles, classifiers, and other lexical categories.
Chapter 5 'Sentence structure' starts with a discussion of topic prominence in Tujia. Next, basic word order (SOV) and different sentence types are introduced.
In chapters 6 'The noun phrase' the formation of associative noun phrases, relative clauses, and classifier phrases are discussed in detail. Relativisation is also a topic of chapter 8 'Nominalisation and relativisation'.
Chapter 7 'The verb phrase' is largely devoted to the description of verb particles expressing a wide variety of semantic concepts, including aspect, directionality, modality, and negation. Section 7.3.1 discusses the order of the verb particles and their co-occurrence restrictions.
Chapter 9 'Sentence linking and special constructions' provides a rather brief overview of clause linkage types and a number of constructions (9.3 'Concurrence constructions', 9.4 'Instrumental constructions', 9.5 'Causative constructions', 9.6 'Sequential constructions').
Finally, chapter 10 'Pronouns in discourse' discusses zero anaphora and the use of guo2, which has been interpreted as a subject marker in previous descriptions of Tujia, but actually functions as the third person singular pronoun.
At 44 pages long Tujia-English lexicon is arranged according to the following semantic fields: nature; the human body, life experiences, relationships, and occupations; production activities; daily living; society and culture; mental activities; sensations; time and space; particles and other closed classes.
The last section is a collection of three Tujia texts: a traditional story about the hero Tian and two traditional songs. Each text is presented with interlinear morpheme glosses, followed by a literal English translation.
What I find particularly useful about ''The Tujia Language'' is the large number of well-glossed examples. Some of the examples are provided with context, others have literary translations in addition to literal ones. Each point is illustrated with up to eight examples. This makes it easy for typologists and other general linguists to find examples relevant to their theoretical discussions. The extensive and properly glossed texts are also a merit of this book.
Below a few recommendations and points of criticism are summarized.
To begin with, for linguists having little idea of minority languages of China, it would be helpful to include a map showing the areas where the two dialects of Tujia are spoken.
The information on genetic affiliation is very scarce and it seems that the authors have no personal opinion on this topic. As all the suggested genetic classifications have been written in Chinese it would be of great help for linguists to provide a brief overview of the major points for and against considering Tujia as belonging to the Qiang branch.
Despite the overall clear organization of the grammar, certain topics are treated in places where one would not expect them or are discussed in different chapters. For instance, it is unclear why the inventory of possible syllables is treated in Section 2.6 'Orthography'. The various types of relativisation are another example. They are treated in two different chapters (in section 6.3.3 'Relative clause' and in 8.4 'Relativisation'). Whereas section 6.3.3 deals with relativisation with the help of the particle nie3, section 8.4 introduces relativisation with the help of bo3xi2. However, it remains unclear what the differences are between these two constructions; the translation suggests that the use bo3xi2 is restricted to relative clauses with perfective aspect; however, this fact is not stated explicitly. Moreover, there are no cross-references in the two sections.
The division of certain chapters is not transparent. For instance, section 5.6 'Interrogative sentences' consists of three subsections: Interrogative pronouns, Disjunct questions, and Sentence-final interrogative particles. It would have made the grammar more reader-friendly, if the authors structured the section according to different types of questions (for instance, question-word questions, yes-no questions, disjunctive questions, etc.). Moreover, a description of constituent order in interrogative sentences is missing.
Section 3.2.1 treats a word formation processes termed by the authors as 'prefixation', however, all of the so called ''prefixes'' are in fact free morphemes with a clear semantic content (e.g. ka3 'tree' in ka3cuo4 'wooden hut'). Moreover, the same words used to exemplify prefixation occur again on p.34 to exemplify compound nouns.
In certain instances the authors use newly coined terms instead of the common linguistic terminology. For instance, section 5.3.3 is devoted to 'pause particles' which are in fact topic markers.
Throughout the grammar the authors use such notions as subject or direct object, however, it remains unclear why such notions are needed in Tujia grammar and what, if any, are the properties that identify the subject or direct object in Tujia.
In chapter 8 'Nominalisation and Relativisation' the authors discuss the nominalizing particles ''which are used after verbs to form nominals'' (p. 141). If formulated this way, it remains unclear why these particles are considered particles at all and not suffixes (there seems to be no phonological differences between the two in this case). The examples suggest that the particles nominalize whole verb phrases (which might consist of only a verb), though the authors resist such a generalization ('The general nominaliser, xi2, is used with individual words but is also often used to nominalise whole phrases.' p. 143). In the same mode, the bracketing of the examples is inconsistent: for instance, in (15) the whole verb phrase is in square brackets, whereas in a similar example (7) only the verb.
(15) nga2 wo3 se1tong1 zu2, [ a3ba1 li3 xi2] xi4 lsg six year (age) SUBP father say NOM listen 'When I was six years old, I listened to what my father said.' (p. 144)
(7) ni2 [ jie2ri1 xi2 ] ca2 2sg work NOM be good 'Your work is good.' (p. 143)
A few negative statements would have done the book more good: for instance, the authors do not treat such topics as passive or serial verb construction, and if there are none in Tujia, it would be helpful to have an explicit negative statement.
There are some redundant comments (e.g. p 24 and p. 26 on the use of orthography).
The grammar is supplemented by a 44 pages long Tujia-English lexicon arranged according to semantic fields, unfortunately, there is no alphabetized English-Tujia index.
The quality of the editing is high: for 200 pages, I haven't found any real misprint. The only fairly serious error is on page 24 in Table 2.34: the IPA symbol for the aspirated velar plosive is missing the superset h.
A two-pages long index is supposed to make it easier to navigate through the book, however, there are two major problems with it. On the one hand, all page numbers are two pages ahead; for instance Indirect object marker is indexed with pages 104-5 and 111, but is dealt on pages 102-3 and 109 instead. On the other hand, some essential terms are missing: for instance, there is neither an entry for interrogative sentence, nor for question.
Most of the bibliographic references refer to earlier publications dealing with Tujia, however, He (2003), the author of the most recent genetic classification of Tujia, is not on the list, and the reader of the grammar has no chance to find the respective publication, as it is an insurmountable task to google for someone called He.
A Grammar of Tujia is by sure a very important contribution to the field of Tibeto-Burman languages and general typology. It is certain to remain the standard reference on this language for years to come.
Brassett, Philip R. and Cecilia Brassett. 2005a. Diachronic and Synchronic Overview of the Tujia Language of Central South China. International Journal of the Sociology of Language, Vol. 173, pp.7S-97.
Brassett, Philip R. and Cecilia Brassett. 2005b. Imperial Tiger Hunters: An Introduction to the Tujia People of China. UK: Antony Rowe Ltd.
He. 2005. (Reference is missing in the grammar).
Tian, Desheng, Tianzhen He, Kang Chen, Jingzhong Li, Zhimin Xie, and Xiumo Peng. 1986. Tujiayu Jianzhi [A grammatical sketch of Tujia]. Beijing: Ethnic Publishing House.
Wang, Jingru. 1955. Guanyu xiangxi tujiayu de chubu yijian [Preliminary Discussion of the Tujia Language of Xiangxi]. Zhollgguo Minzu Wenti Yanjiu Jikan [Collected Papers on Ethnic Issues in China], Vol. 4, pp. 135-174. Beijing: Research Department of the Central College for Nationalities.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Alena Witzlack-Makarevich is a Ph.D. student at the University of Leipzig, Institute of Linguistics, working on the typology of grammatical relations. Her other interests include typological databases, language documentation and Khoisan languages.