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Date: Mon, 08 Sep 2003 14:26:49 -0700 From: Vajda <firstname.lastname@example.org> Subject: A Grammar of Kolyma Yukaghir
Maslova, Elena (2003) A Grammar of Kolyma Yukaghir, Mouton de Gruyter, Mouton Grammar Library 27.
Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/14/14-816.html
Reviewed by Edward J. Vajda, Western Washington University, Bellingham, Washington
Description of the book:
This book is a major reference grammar of Kolyma Yukaghir, one of the so-called "Paleo-Siberian" languages of Northeastern Asia. Its 14 chapters follow a rather traditional structural breakdown, covering first phonology, then inflectional and derivational morphology by form class, and finally a host of individual facets of the phrasal and sentence-level syntax. There are also three appendices: a Yukaghir-English glossary (541-56), a representative listing of unproductive verb derivation types arranged alphabetically according to the derivational suffix involved (557-62), and two texts with interlinear morpheme glosses (the idiomatic English translations follow in paragraph form). The first is a folktale entitled 'Perch' (563-76), the second an episode from the informant's childhood (576-82). Both were recorded by author Elena Maslova (henceforward M) in 1992.
Chapter 1 (1-18), which serves as the book's introduction, provides a cursory structural overview of the language. It also states that "Yukaghir can probably be affiliated with Uralic languages" (1), a view that is becoming increasingly widely accepted. The introduction also lays out M's purpose in writing the grammar, which fills a lacuna in the published descriptions of Yukaghir, none of which treated the Kolyma variety in any extensive detail.
Chapter 2, entitled 'Kolyma Yukaghir and its speakers' (19-28), chronicles the language's evolving sociolinguistic situation during the 20th century, throughout which Russian influence has produced an increasingly greater effect on the vocabulary and grammatical categories with every passing decade. For this reason, it is important to speak not only of geographic linguistic variation, but also of distinct generational forms of Yukaghir, with those speakers coming of age before the 1940's speaking the least Russified form, and each successive generation afterward borrowing growing numbers of Russian words and morphosyntactic patterns. M states that the development of these increasingly contact-influenced forms of Yukaghir by younger speakers for whom Russian has become the dominant native tongue resulted from a conscious preference on the part of native speakers faced with the alternative of losing their traditional ethnic language altogether (24). Consequently, the maintenance of this type of modified Yukaghir means that the language's preservation is actually greater than had been reported during the past few decades, when it appeared that it was on the imminent verge of extinction. For example, M discovered that about 50 middle-generation Yukaghir still spoke a fluent form of the language to their elders, despite having claimed no knowledge of their ethnic tongue in 1987 (23). This strategy of "survival through modification", along with the extremely rapid process of language change it entails, should be of great interest to specialists in contact linguistics. The version of Kolyma Yukaghir that M describes here is that spoken by the generation older than 60 and living in the village of Nelemnoye (Upper Kolyma District, Sakha Republic), where about 150 native Yukaghir of varying linguistic abilities reside.
The remaining twelve chapters are devoted to individual aspects the language's phonology, morphology and syntax. Chapter 3 (29-58) provides a basic description of the phoneme inventory and the major phonological and morphophonemic patterns. M states that much work needs still to be done on the acoustic and articulatory properties of Yukaghir (29), and her discussion of the phonetic properties of Yukaghir speech sounds is more impressionistic rather than based on sophisticated phonetic analysis. The sections on morphophonemics are more authoritative. Of particular interest is the discussion of palatal harmony, which is regulated by the existence of front and back stem types (determined by the stem-initial vowel), which produce a long-distance assimilatory effect on the place of articulation of the vowels of a small, closed set of suffixes. Back stems begin with a back vowel; front stems with a non-high front vowel, with /i/ often being neutral with regards to palatal harmony. A few unproductive suffixes also exhibit the effects of labial harmony. Because only one productive suffix exhibits regular front vs. back allophones, both labial and palatal harmony appear to be vestigial traits in the extant forms of Yukaghir.
Chapter 4 (61-72) introduces the parts of speech and their characteristic inflectional paradigms. One interesting trait of Yukaghir form classes is the absence of the adjective as a formally distinct category, with qualitative verb forms generally filling this functional role. Alongside the open classes of noun, verb, and adverb, Yukaghir also has five closed form classes: pronouns (and related pro-forms), numerals, postpositions (there are no prepositions), particles, and interjections.
Chapter 5 (73-138) discusses the nominal morphology, providing tables that illustrate the nine grammatical cases of the non-possessive subparadigm, and the eight cases of the possessive subparadigm. The functions of the individual case, number (singular vs. plural), and possessive suffixes are discussed in great detail, with copious examples. This section also introduces the complex system of focus marking, which involves the use of certain case markers on subject and object NPs. Nominal derivation is also covered. Noun stem derivation mainly involves suffixes, though there are also derivational patterns of root compounding and conversion.
Chapter 6 (139-231) covers basic verb morphology. There are four major subparadigms: for finite forms, attributive forms, nominal forms, and converbs (forms used in subordinate clauses). This chapter primarily covers the inflectional patterns themselves, with subsequent chapters dealing with issues of usage. Also covered are the various tense and mood forms, as well as aspectual forms, verbs of possession (which M calls 'proprietive verbs'), and valence-changing categories such as causatives, detransitives, reciprocals and reflexives.
Chapter 7, titled 'Morphology of closed classes' (233-279), discusses pronouns, numerals and postpositions. Personal pronouns have twelve inflectional forms, some of which are required by the language's system of grammatical focus. Demonstrative pronouns have proximal, separated (distant but visible), and distal (invisible) stems.
The remaining seven chapters are devoted to syntactic patterns. Ch. 8 (281-323) discusses noun phrases and postpositional phrases, both of which are head-final. Ch. 9, entitled 'Syntax of the clause' (325-68), covers grammatical relations and verb government, with special attention to the extensive affinity between the core participant roles and the pragmatic factor of focus. Yukaghir, in fact, is a language with a typologically noteworthy pragmatic split in subject/object marking. As M puts it, "Yukaghir appears to show a special ('Focus-oriented') case of split intransitivity" (327). While the subject NP alone controls verb agreement regardless of pragmatic factors, there are two verb-internal agreement paradigms, whose usage depends upon whether or not the subject NP is in pragmatic focus. In terms of basic word order, Yukaghir is primarily SOV.
Chapter 10, entitled 'Clause chaining' (368-400), discusses the grammatical means used in Yukaghir to connect several clauses together in a complex sentence. Because the language lacks grammatical means of creating coordinate structures between two or more finite clauses, only the last clause contains a finite verb form. Any preceding clauses contain the so-called converb forms, which are marked to indicate whether or not the given clause expresses the same subject as that of the main clause. In this way, non-finite verb forms (i.e., converbs) express switch reference and play a major role in referent tracking in discourse.
Chapter 11 (401-35) discusses the role played by the nominal forms and attributive forms of verbs in subordination strategies employed for complementation, relativization, and adverbial clause formation.
Chapter 12, entitled 'Nominal predicates and grammatical focus' (437-72), pulls together all of the information given about information structure in previous chapters, and also illustrates how descriptive clauses linking two NPs are configured both formally and functionally. In summing up the semantics of grammatical focus, M states that Yukaghir "is not a language which marks which element of a finite clause represents the Focus of this clause. Rather, it is a language which marks each finite clause for whether or not its S/O participant is the Focus" (458).
Chapter 13 (473-512) discusses the differences between declarative, interrogative, imperative, optative, and exclamatory sentences. Also discussed here are formal negation patterns as well as various speech-reporting strategies.
The final chapter is called 'Coreference and discourse coherence' (513-39) and returns to the topics of reflexivization and clause chaining from the perspective of the entire text. In addition to providing an encapsulation of the language's referent tracking strategies, it also discusses discourse-level particles and other connective devices.
The grammar closes with a list of 107 notes (583-91), a list of references (593-6), and a subject index (597-609).
This important publication, augmenting M's earlier work, finally makes it clear that what was once referred to as "Yukaghir" is actually a family of distinct language forms, most now extinct. The two remaining languages, Tundra (Northern) Yukaghir, and Kolyma (Southern) Yukaghir are not mutually intelligible and appear to have diverged from a common ancestor at least a couple thousand years ago (p. 28). Previous studies of Yukaghir (notably Krejnovich 1982), surveyed all of the known Yukagir "dialects" together, but none of them exhaustively. This is the first attempt to describe a single Yukaghir language form in as much detail as is possible. Together with M's shorter sketch on Tundra Yukaghir (Maslova 2003), this book provides a fairly complete picture of the grammatical resources of this understudied microfamily. Information on language maintenance and the differential effects of Russian language contact on successive generations of speakers likewise sets a new benchmark for the received understanding of the sociolinguistic situation among the remaining 1100 or so native Yukaghir. On the other hand, the information given on suprasegmental features such as word and phrasal stress and sentence intonation is rather sparse. M's description of the Kolyma Yukaghir lexicon is likewise somewhat cursory (though the example sentences themselves are quite rich in vocabulary) and could only be supplemented in a similarly thorough fashion by a full-length dictionary. Since it is not clear whether such a project is planned, linguists interested in Yukaghir should avail themselves of the much richer lexical data provided for both Tundra and Kolyma Yukaghir in the glossaries of M's compilation of Yukaghir texts (Maslova 2001).
With its clear organization and numerous carefully glossed and carefully checked examples, this book is a boon for typologists interested in "exotic" languages of Eurasia. The form of Kolyma Yukaghir described is mainly the highly synthetic, agglutinative variety used by native speakers over 55-60 years old, which shows relatively little intrusion of more analytic Russian grammatical patterns. By contrast, Russian influence is pervasive on all aspects of the grammar in the speech of younger generations of Yukaghir speakers, who have chosen to maintain an increasingly Russified Yukaghir language rather than lose the language altogether (24). The example sentences are largely taken from prior recordings of connected texts and do not represent artificial elicitations, as is often typical of material gleaned for descriptive grammars from native-speaker informants. The rich trove of data that M assembles captures in great detail the form of Kolyma Yukaghir acquired natively prior to massive Russian influence. One highly effective feature of this comprehensive description is the author's traditional arrangement of material in chapters according to the scheme 'function to form', while using the format 'form to function' within each subsection. This allows for a detailed cross-analysis of individual that straddle several formal areas of the grammar topics (for instance, the focus system, which involves case marking, the expression of grammatical roles in the finite verb clause, as well as the finite verb subparadigms themselves). Also refreshing is M's determination to describe Yukaghir syntax from a functional perspective, taking her lead from the categories of form and usage that are significant for this particular language, rather than trying to pigeon-hole the available data into preconceived slots reflecting the latest version of this or that linguistic theory.
Elena Maslova's grammar of Kolyma Yukaghir is a masterful achievement in Siberian linguistics that finally sheds the full light of day on this fascinating, hitherto understudied language.
BIBLIOGRAPHY Krejnovich, E.A. (1982) Issledovanija i materialy po jukakirskomu jazyku, Nauka: Leningrad. Maslova, Elena (2001) Yukaghir texts. Lincom: Munich. Maslova, Elena (2003) Tundra Yukaghir. Lincom: Munich.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Edward J. Vajda is a professor of Linguistics, Russian Language, and
Eurasian Studies at Western Washington University. He is an editor of
the journal Word. His research interests include minority languages of
the former Soviet Union and other areas of Eurasia. For the past several
years he has been intensively involved in linguistic research on the
structure of Ket, a language isolate spoken by a few hundred people in
Central Siberia near the Yenisei River.