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Review of  A Grammar of Mina

Reviewer: Mahamane Laoualy Abdoulaye
Book Title: A Grammar of Mina
Book Author: Zygmunt Frajzyngier Eric Johnston Adrian Edwards
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Language Documentation
Subject Language(s): Mina
Issue Number: 18.912

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AUTHORS: Frajzyngier, Zygmunt; Johnston, Eric; Edwards, Adrian
TITLE: A Grammar of Mina
SERIES: Mouton Grammar Library 36
YEAR: 2005
PUBLISHER: Mouton de Gruyter
ISBN: 3110185652

Reviewer: Mahamane L. Abdoulaye (Abdou Moumouni University, Niamey, Niger)

Continuing the series of reference grammars on Chadic languages by the main
author and his associates (cf. Frajzyngier 1993, Frajzyngier and Shay
2002, etc.), this book offers a full description of Mina, a central Chadic
language spoken in the northwest of Cameroon, around the village of Marbak.


A feature in the presentation of the book is an introductory chapter
(Chapter 1) that contains a synopsis of the phonology, the lexicon, the
morphology, the syntax, and the discourse structure of the language. All
chapters also have an introduction setting out the tasks and a conclusion
recapitulating the main findings. The book is interspersed with
ethnographic or anecdotal information, giving some view on the life and
culture of Mina speakers. Besides the main chapters, the book has an
acknowledgment section, a table of contents, a list of abbreviations, a
collection of narrative texts, an index, and a reference section.

Chapter 2 ''Phonology'' proposes 28 consonant phonemes (including ejective
[p’], which appears in only one word in the corpus). The system features
prenasalized stops (behaving differently from N+Stop sequences, cf. p.9),
lateral fricatives, and glottalized stops. In Mina, only the lateral liquid
can geminate (p.17). Clusters (two consonants only) can occur in
word-initial and word-medial position (where they involve a least one
sonorant) or in word-final position (where all consonants must be sonorant,
cf. p.15). The main phonological process is the palatalization of alveolar
fricatives and affricates before [i].

The six vowel phonemes are /i, e, ə, u, o, a/. A phonetic rounded high
front vowel exists resulting from the fronting of /u/ after a front vowel.
There are two vowel harmony processes along the features [front] and
[round], respectively. Final vowels are deleted phrase-internally, which
has a great repercussion in the syntax of the language (p.21). Indeed, most
words have two forms, one used phrase-internally, and the other used
phrase-finally. In fact, many grammatical items, such as pronouns, have two
very distinct forms allowing -- at least in theory -- for an easy
identification of phrasal boundaries (the system probably leaks, since the
subject phrase for example does not preserve its final vowel, cf. p.273).

The allowed syllable structures are (p.24): V, N, VC, CV, CVC, CCV (where
the second consonant is a sonorant). This list does not concord with the
claim that consonant clusters occur word-finally (cf. p.17, where a word
must indeed be syllabified as CVCC). Mina has two tones, a High and a Low,
which are associated with lexical and grammatical functions. The book
claims that when a supporting vowel is deleted, the associated tone is
deleted as well (p.29). Many grammatical markers display tonal polarity.

Chapter 3 ''The structure of the noun phrase'' gives the general NP structure
''Head + (Number) + (Modifier) + (Determiner) (Number). Number marking
appears at the end of the phrase, or both on the head and at the end of the
phrase (p.60). There are only two derivational processes for forming nouns,
the agentive derivation (which in reality involves a relative clause marker
and translates as ''one who Verb'', p.38) and the ethnonym derivation (the
prefix added to names of ethnic groups, places, or property nouns, derives
the names for members of the group/place or bearers of the property, p.40).
The possessive construction is ''Possessed + tə + Possessor''. Kinship terms
in possessive constructions vary greatly from their base form and depend on
the person (1st, 2nd, 3rd) of the possessor (p.51). The pronominal system
is characterized in the 1st person by a dual/exclusive/inclusive
distinction. Mina has no reported noun classification system.

Chapter 4 ''The verb and its forms'' says that the verbal stem can have the
structure CV, CVC, CCV(C), or CVCVC, with lexical tones. Statives forms of
transitive verbs are derived through suffixation and are used in the
''perfect'' constructions (cf. chapter 11).

Chapter 5 ''Argument Coding'' (the book's longest chapter, pp.77-116) shows
that Mina has the syntactic category ''subject''. Beside the typical
conflation of semantic roles, the subject function is also distinguished by
a special focus construction and a special form of the associative
conjunction (i.e., ''NP and NP'' in subject function is coded differently
from ''NP and NP'' in other functions, p.78). In pragmatically neutral
sentences, the Direct Object (DO) occurs after the verb, giving the
canonical SVO order in the language. The dative object occurs before the
noun DO if it is pronominal and after it otherwise (a dative marker is
always affixed to the verb).

Chapter 6 ''Coding the event from the point of view of the subject''
describes the use of a particle ka/kə claimed to mark a new function in
linguistic description, the point of view of the subject. The particle is
used if the verb's action is beneficial or detrimental to the subject (p.118).

Chapter 7 is devoted to ''Locative predication and locative complements''
(see more on this in discussion section below). Mina has place deixis
markers (proximal kà 'here' and distal mà 'there', cf. p.138) that are
different from entity deixis markers (cf. chapter 17, pp.307-312), which
are wà/wàcín/wàhín 'this' and ta/taŋ 'that (near listener)'.

Chapter 8 treats the topic of adjuncts more generally, including the
comitative, the instrumental and some temporal adverbs that can all be
marked with the preposition meaning 'with, and'.

Chapter 9 ''Goal orientation extension'' presents a verb suffix -á/ákà that
marks a specific place (implicit or explicit) for the verb's action or a
ventive notion (motion towards speaker or relevant deictic center). This
marker, for example, changes the base verb for 'depart, go' into 'arrive,

Chapter 10 ''Tenses'' explores the two tenses of Mina, the future and the
past. Mina has tense and aspect (T/A) paradigms (not combinable), some of
which appear in two forms, an independent and a dependent form, with a
great repercussion on the syntax. The independent future is marked by the
configuration ''S-V-O-za'' and appears in pragmatically independent clauses,
i.e., clauses ''that do not require another proposition or a specific
situation for their interpretation'' (p.179). The dependent future is marked
by the configuration ''S-n-k`ə[INF]-V'' (with a locative preposition and an
infinitive marker) and appears in pragmatically dependent clauses, i.e.,
clauses which ''the hearer is forced to interpret [...] in connection with
another previously mentioned or yet to be mentioned clause'' (p.179). Such
clauses are the temporal or conditional protases, 'say'-complement clauses,
wh-questions (but not y/n questions; cf. p.183), or clauses with a focus on
the predicate. The independent past is marked by the reduplicated structure
''V1-S-V1-DO-(X)-za'', where the subject appears between the two verbal
parts. The main argument for analyzing the reduplicated configuration as
tense (and not aspect) is the fact that it codes past time and past time
only events (cf. p.189; it should however be noted that the grammar is
based almost exclusively on narratives, where perfectives are not easily
distinguished from simple past tenses). In the past tense, at least two
verbs have a suppletive ''reduplication'', where the first form of the verb
is different from the second form (p.190). The dependent past is coded by
the infinitive marker kə before the verb and a clause final za, without
reduplication. In addition, in the past, the plurality of an event can be
marked by multiple verb reduplication (leftward for the independent past
and rightward for the dependent past).

Chapter 11 ''Aspects'' distinguishes the habitual (with a
dependent/independent form contrast) and the perfect. It also discusses
aspectual constructions with auxiliary verbs, such as the terminative (verb
'throw'), the completive ('finish'), the intentional ('go to') and the
iterative (verb reduplication). The perfect is marked by the configuration
''S-m`ə[REL]-Stative Verb'' (p.211). With intransitive verbs of movement such
as 'come', the perfect ''codes the subject still being present at
destination'' (i.e. 'he has come' vs. 'he came and went', cf. p.214; for the
use of the perfect with transitive verbs see discussion section below).

According to Chapter 12 ''Modality'', Mina distinguishes between epistemic
modality (unmarked speaker's belief in truth of proposition vs. marked
dubitative) and deontic modality (imperative, subjunctive, and optative).
The language also marks an ''emotive'' modality that expresses surprise,
astonishment, and amazement (p.251).

Chapter 13 ''End-of-event coding'' explores another modality which ''is not
commonly found'' in linguistic description and which ''implies that the event
[in the clause] is real, regardless of its absolute time or aspect'' (p.250).

Chapter 14 ''Negation'' says that negative clauses always use the dependent
T/A and are marked by clause-final skù/sk`ə. There is no verb reduplication
in negative clauses.

Chapter 15 ''Verbless clauses'' essentially shows that equational, nominal
and adjectival predication constructions in Mina have no copula, unless
they refer to a time other than the present. The possessive ''have'' can be
expressed by an associative construction ''Possessor [be] with Possessed'',
an existential construction ''Possessed-of-Possessor Exist'', or through a
locative construction ''Possessed on Possessor Exist'' (p.282ff).

Chapter 16 ''Interrogative clauses'' says that y/n questions use the
independent T/A and are marked by rising intonation and a clause-final
question marker vù. Wh-questions use the dependent past form and,
apparently, the dependent future form, too (there is some confusion about
this between claims on p.183 vs. p.293). The interrogative pronouns are ví
for humans and mì for non-humans, supplied with appropriate prepositions if
they have an adjunct role (place, time, reason, manner, etc.). Some
interrogative pronouns appear in clause-initial and others in clause-final
position, but in any case not in situ (p.290). Subject wh-questions are
special in that they are marked by the clause-initial REL-marker m`ə with
the interrogative pronouns positioned clause-finally. According to the
authors, subject questions are paraphrasable as ''the one who Verb is
who/what?'' and sometimes only intonation distinguishes a wh-question from a
relative clause (p.294). DO questions have no relative clause structure.
According to the authors, wh-words in Mina are not inherently
interrogative, but they simply represent the unspecific argument (cf.
p.303; this is in fact a claim -- plausible in my view -- that the first
author already made about Proto-Chadic and other Chadic languages, cf.
Frajzyngier 1985: 66ff).

Chapter 17 ''Reference'' treats the form of independent pronouns (vs. subject
or DO pronouns). It also describes how the entity deixis markers - proximal
wà/wàhín/wàcín 'this' vs. remote ta/ taŋ 'there'- are used as discourse
markers to refer, respectively, to a known and a deduced referent. The
remote marker ''instructs the listener to identify the referent through a
process of deduction using knowledge from various sources, including the
listener's cognitive system, the speech environment, and previous
discourse'' (p.328). The chapter details the conditions of use of full NPs
vs. simple nouns, pronouns, or other anaphors, in subject or DO functions.

Chapter 18 ''Focus constructions'' shows that subject focus is special and
expressed through a relative clause construction ''S-m`ə[REL]-V-O'' (p.348).
The book gives many examples translated with English it-cleft sentences
(however, the chapter's conclusion -- p.355 -- wrongly claims that the
focused subject ''remains in its pragmatically neutral clause-initial
position''). The DO is focused through preposing before the verb with the
locative preposition n in a structure ''S-n-DO-V''. Other focus notions are
discussed, which, however, are not easy to understand (cf. the equation of
''focus on the predicate'' with ''focus clause'' on p.351ff).

Chapter 19 ''Topicalization'' distinguishes a discourse topic, established at
the beginning of the discourse and marked with deictic wà/wàhín/wàcín. Such
topics are later referred to by subject pronouns. Topics can also be
established for paragraphs and for sentences, all marked with the deictic
particle. Proper nouns, titles, etc. are topicalized by the 3rd person
pronoun. Independent pronouns can also be topic. Mina allows topic nouns
that have no argument or adjunct function in the sentence (p.362). DO
topics are also fronted with the deictic particle, but they have a scope
limited to their sentence. The comment clause of topic constructions
naturally takes the independent T/A.

Chapter 20 ''Parataxis'' discusses the combination possibilities for
independent clauses in Mina.

Chapter 21 ''Complementation'' studies the clausal complement of verbs of
saying, volition, perception, and knowing, as well as infinitival
complements. The chapter details the forms of the direct vs. indirect
speech with verbs of saying. Volition verbs exhibit a switch-reference
system. Infinitival complements allow Object-to-Object Raising to give
structures such as ''he started meat to cut'' or ''he started house to build''
(p.397). Verbs of perception allow Subject-to-Object Raising of the
structure ''I heard them coming''.

Chapter 22 ''Temporal and conditional clauses'' says that temporal clauses
are marked by dependent T/A or by specific markers. Conditional clauses are
marked by the dependent T/A or by áng`ə 'if'. In both constructions, the
protasis precedes the apodosis.

Chapter 23 discuses ''Purpose, reason, and conclusion clauses''.

Chapter 24 is devoted to ''Comparative constructions''.

Chapter 25 ''Relative clause'' shows that the subject is relativized in a
structure ''Head-m`ə[REL]-Clause''. Headless relative clauses are interpreted
as ''the one who Verb''. The relativized DO is placed before the relative
clause and repeated in situ or recalled with a resumptive DO marker affixed
to the verb. Relativized datives, instrumentals, etc. are also fronted but
have only a resumptive pronoun on the verb or associated preposition. In
any case, no other relativized NP but the subject can be marked with m`ə.

Chapter 26 ''Elements of discourse structure'' introduces the new category
''comment clause'' and the unrelated category ''change of scene''. The ''comment
clause'', marked by the emotive modality particle syì, is a clause whose
event ''may be construed as taking place simultaneously with another clause,
or as being a consequence, causal or temporal, of the preceding clause''
(p.438). The ''change of scene'' category, marked by the associative particle
'with, and' occurring between the subject and the verb, indicates that ''a
participant has moved from the place where it has been at the last mention
in discourse'' (p.442). The authors indeed show that whenever the
''S-with/and-V'' occurs, the subject leaves the scene previously mentioned.
However, there was no attempt to rule out trivial structures such as a
subject/topic followed by a temporal clause marked with the associative
particle (cf. Hausa: yâarân dà zuwànsù... 'the children with [i.e., upon]
their arrival...'). All illustrated ''S-with/and-V'' clauses are followed by
sequential clauses that can be interpreted as main clauses. This chapter
also discusses another uncommon category in linguistic description, the
''new action and its consequence'', marked by the auxiliary verb for 'put'.
This construction occurs when an activity is new for the subject and the
listener expects some consequences out of it (p.446).


With 452 pages of description, this grammar handles most topics of interest
to the general reader. Mina apparently has no derived nominals, although
the book does not explicitly comment on this. The grammar is based on a set
of narrative texts and indeed the authors make the point that for this
reason, their work is well grounded on natural data. There is however some
contradiction between stated methodological claims and real working
procedures. In the introduction (p.3), the authors say that ''[m]ost
examples [from the texts] have been checked with language assistants, and
they were given a tonal transcription, new segmental representation,
morpheme-by-morpheme analyses, glosses, and sometimes a new interpretation
and translation''. It is also said about one of the assistants that
''[k]eenly interested in his language[,] he has read the examples in the
present work, suggesting some changes in transcription and translation''.
Nonetheless, the authors strongly discredit native speakers' judgments and
elicited data. On page 67, they report that some native speakers considered
a certain sentence in a text as ungrammatical, yet the authors decided that
''[t]he fact that this sentence was used in natural discourse overrides
other speakers' judgments''. On page 4, there is the claim that ''[t]he
elicited examples frequently lead to incorrect conclusions when it comes to
describing the function of a form'', and p.429 ''[t]he elicited examples
should be used with extreme caution, because we do not know how natural
they are'' and a similar comment on page 399. This avoidance of elicited
data lead to frequent statements to the effect that ''[g]iven the paucity of
natural discourse data, we are unable to determine the function of...''
(p.400, cf. also p.264, 311, 396, 430, etc.). Sometimes though, the crucial
contribution of elicited data is acknowledged (cf. p.68, 264, 355, 399,
429, etc.).

The book also has its share of mistakes. There are data
formatting/numbering errors (p.42, 82, 197, 447). A possessive 3rd person
pronoun following the verb 'return' in data on p.125 seems to be the
Intransitive Copy Pronoun (i.e., 'she returned [her way] to the village'),
but it is wrongly interpreted as a real possessive pronoun (i.e., 'she
returned to her village'). Real possessive pronouns follow the possessed
noun (cf. pp.48-51). There are some typos (cf. ''commitative'', p.157),
superfluous words (cf. ''all vowels in Figure 2.1 vowels,'' p.18, cf. also
p.4 and p.451), missing words (cf. a missing ''are'', p.347 and ''in'', p.419),
wrong words (cf. ''is'' for ''if'', p.64 or ''calabash'' for ''it/stick'', p.479).
On p.199, ''too'' should have occurred 3 words earlier. On p.479, a sentence
reads: ''[A]nother language asistant does not accept the the prepostion nin
the avove clause...'', with five mistakes. The reference section
(pp.507-509) was simply not re-checked for typos, inaccuracies, and format
inconsistencies before publication.

In many places, the terminology is not adequate. For example, on p.212ff,
the book describes the ''perfect'' and says ''the perfect aspect is used to
code the state of the subject with verbs that in the non-perfect aspects
take a controlling subject.'' This implies that a by-product of the perfect
is for transitive verbs to become intransitive with the patient as the
subject. The authors here could have simply described a passive
construction and explain its connection with the perfect. Another confusing
terminology is ''comment clause'' in chapter 26, which is different from the
''comment-on-focus'' clause and the ''comment-on-topic'' clause of p.182, 191,
363. Similarly, p.191 says that relative clauses are ''comment'' on some
other element (presumably the head). All this may be confusing for readers
who take ''comment'' (cf. the topic/comment articulation) to refer to the
assertion part of a sentence. Unclear definitions are also given on p.307
for demonstratives and on p.347 for focus.

Finally, to illustrate just one substantive problem in the book, in chapter
7 the authors explain the coding means in locative constructions and assume
(based on intuition and not definitions) that Mina has +/-inherently
locative verbs where the inherently non-locative verbs (INLVs) would
require a predicator à before locative nouns. Similarly, Mina has
+/-inherently locative nouns where the inherently non-locative nouns would
require a preposition n after a verb. This gives the following four
combinations: V+N (simple juxtaposition) for ILVs+ILNs, V+n+N for
ILVs+INLNs, V+à+N for INLVs+ILNs, and V+à+n+N for INLVs+INLNs. However, the
system does not work. Many intuitive ILVs require the predicator à (cf. til
'leave, move', deɓ 'carry, take', yàn 'move in' and even -- cf. p.137 --
ɗew 'sit'). Similarly, some intuitive ILNs require the preposition n, such
láy 'field' (cf. also the fact that in the equivalent of 'he filled them
[shoes] with ash', the anaphor referring to 'shoes' requires the
preposition n). Here, the authors could have looked at the naturalness of
the locative relation as part of the explanation of the coding means. In
Hausa for example, 'Ali is in the room' can be Àali yanàa cikin ɗaakìi with
a preposition and a nominal form of 'room' or Àali yanàa ɗakà with
juxtaposition and an adverbial form of 'room', since a room is a natural
place for humans. In contrast, 'the lion is inside the room' can only be
zaakìi yanàa cikin ɗaakìi, since a real lion can only be an accidental
presence in a room. Natural relations being more frequent, they may allow
or even require a reduced coding, in contrast to less natural relations
(cf. Bybee and Hopper 2001 on effects of frequency on linguistic
structure). P.127 says that [+human] nouns are not ILNs, yet a person is a
natural locus for many items (such as jewelry) and can be complement to
motion verbs. Finally, the Mina locative ''predicator'' à may not be so
special, given constructions in Hausa such as kwàndôn yanàa [à bisà kâ-n
teebùr] 'the-basket is [at on top-of table]'.

This reference grammar is packed with interesting facts and one would
recommend it for students of Chadic languages and for typologists and
general linguists alike. Indeed, as the authors noted, some features seem
to be particular to the language and may be a challenge for syntactic
theories. However, some other purported particular features are probably
mislabeled and there is no doubt different readers will have different
interpretations for many of the described phenomena.


Bybee, Joan & Paul Hopper, eds. (2001) Frequency and the emergence of
linguistic structure. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Frajzyngier, Zygmunt (1985) Interrogative sentences in Chadic:
Reconstruction and functional explanation. Journal of West African
Languages 15, 57-72.

Frajzyngier, Zygmunt (1993) A grammar of Mupun. Berlin: Reimer.

Frajzyngier, Zygmunt with Erin Shay (2002) A Grammar of Hdi. Berlin: Mouton
de Gruyter.
Mahamane L. Abdoulaye teaches linguistics at the Abdou Moumouni University,
Niamey. His main research focuses on Hausa morphology, syntax, and semantics.

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