Blackings, Mairi and Nigel Fabb (2003) A Grammar of Ma'di, Mouton de Gruyter, Mouton Grammar Library 32.
Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/14/14-1974.html
Matti Miestamo, Department of General Linguistics, University of Helsinki.
DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK
This book is a reference grammar of Ma'di, a Central Sudanic (Nilo- Saharan) language spoken by some 250.000 people in Southern Sudan and Northern Uganda. The grammar focuses on the Lokai dialect spoken in Sudan, the native dialect of one of the authors, but dialectal differences are discussed throughout the book. The book contains more than 700 pages and is divided into 22 chapters.
Chapters 1 'Introduction' and 2 'An overview of Ma'di' together serve as an introduction to the later chapters of the book. Chapter 1 gives the reader a general sociolinguistic account of Ma'di, describing the ethnographic and demographic situation and the use of the language in the media. The genealogical affiliation of the language is also briefly discussed. Ma'di belongs to the Moru-Madi group together with languages like Lugbara, Logo and Moru. The different dialects of Ma'di are also presented. Chapter 2 introduces the central structural characteristics of the language discussed in more detail in the rest of the book.
Chapter 3 'Phonetics' describes the consonant and vowel inventories from a phonetic and phonemic point of view, and gives an account of syllable structure, phonotactics, tonology, and prosody. The authors distinguish 44 consonant phonemes including the doubly and secondarily articulated ones and nine vowel phonemes. Syllables are either V or CV. There are three basic tones: low, mid and high. It is worth noting that several grammatical morphemes are realized as floating tones. Chapter 4 'Phonology and Morphology' discusses different phonological and morphological processes: Advanced Tongue Root (ATR) vowel harmony, different assimilation and deletion processes, tone deletion and raising, and gives a short overview of the morphological techniques employed by the language: affixation (prefixes and suffixes), compounding, reduplication and tonal modification.
In Chapter 5 'Verbs', the reader is introduced to the central morphological and syntactic characteristics of verbs. Derivation is mainly prefixal whereas inflection uses both prefixes and suffixes. Inflectional prefixes express person-number and tense-mood, and inflectional suffixes have subordinating functions. Syntactic verb classes are distinguished according to argument structure. Some valency phenomena are also treated in this chapter. Chapter 6 'Other word classes' discusses nouns, adjectives, postpositions, determiners, adverbials, numerals, and interjections mainly focusing on morphology. The formal and functional aspects of the pronominal system get a more detailed treatment in this chapter. Derivation and compounding of nouns is described. Nouns are the only class where true compounds are found. The authors provide evidence for treating adjectives and nouns as distinct classes (contra Tucker 1940). The functions coded by pronominals are person (including the inclusive/exclusive distinction), number, definiteness, tense and modality.
Chapter 7 'The uninflected verb' describes the verb forms that code past tense, the nonpast verb forms are treated in Chapter 8 'The inflected verb', and Chapter 9 'The directive verb' discusses the verb forms used in commands, prohibitions and wishes. These three verb forms have distinctive paradigms of subject pronouns. A very interesting feature of Ma'di (and of the related language Lugbara, see Crazzolara 1960) is the word order difference between past and nonpast tenses: in the past objects are postverbal, whereas they precede the verb in the nonpast (and in the directive). The nonpast and directive forms have the low tone prefix. The authors argue that the inflected-noninflected distinction codes tense rather than aspect, although in earlier work on Ma'di and other Central Sudanic languages the distinction has been seen as an aspectual one. They also argue that true subjects are always pronominal, and full noun phrase subjects are treated as adjoined, i.e. not as true arguments of the verb.
In Chapter 10 'Suffixed subordinate verbs' the authors discuss the morphology of subordinate verb forms and the internal syntax of subordinate clauses containing these forms. There are five different subordinating suffixes and all of these forms also have the low tone prefix. Clauses with suffixed subordinate verbs function as complements of verbs and as relative clauses.
Chapter 11 is entitled 'Sentences with nonverbal predicates'. The nonverbal predicates are noun, adjective or postposition phrases. There are syntactic differences between definite and indefinite predicates. Sentences with nonverbal predicates always get a present tense reading. To express a different tense, a matrix verb construction taking the nonverbal predication as complement must be used. Although nonverbal predicates do not always have overtly realized pronominal subjects, the authors argue that a subject pronoun is always present in the structure, but it may be non-overt. Full noun phrase subjects are then analysed as adjoined. One motivation presented for the analysis is treating nonverbal predicates in the same way as verbal predicates, which always have a pronominal subject.
Chapters 12-14 deal with noun phrases. Chapter 12, somewhat misleadingly entitled 'Noun phrases', focuses on determiners. Types of noun phrase are distinguished according to the choice of determiners. Determiners encode specificity and definiteness, and determiners coding these functions can be combined in a noun phrase. Determiners follow the head noun. There are three deictic contrasts in demonstratives. Another aspect of noun phrases is discussed in Chapter 13 'Modification of the noun (including possession)'. Modifiers are usually placed after the head noun before determiners. The only premodifiers are possessives, but there are also possessive postmodifiers. Chapter 14 'Nonsingular noun phrases' deals with the expression of number, ways of conjoining noun phrases and the use of quantifiers and numerals. Despite the title, the topics treated in this chapter are not restricted to noun phrases.
In Chapter 15 'Postposition phrases and other location expressions' the reader learns that the functions of postpositions include source, location, temporary location, possession, benefactive and comitative, and that postpositions also have more abstract grammaticalized uses. Place names and locational adverbs are also discussed as well as the modification of locational expressions.
The discussion in Chapter 16 'Verbs and clausal complements' is organized according to the type of verb found in the main clause. Both finite and nonfinite subordinate clauses are found as complements of lexical verbs, the latter being marked with one of the five subordinating suffixes discussed in Chapter 10. There are also various grammaticalized complement constructions expressing sequence and other related meanings; these take finite complement clauses. The chapter concludes with a discussion of coreference between the subjects of main and subordinate clauses.
Chapter 17 'Modals and negation' deals with five sentence- final elements expressing certainty and completion, possibility, non- possibility, past negation and nonpast negation. Both negators occur with past verb forms (noninflected verbs), and the tense distinction is made by the choice of negator instead of verb form.
In Chapter 18 'Adverbials', adverbials are grouped according to their syntax: freely placed, fixed final and sentence-initial adverbials. Temporal nouns, adverbials with specific discourse functions and subordinate clauses functioning as adverbials are discussed separately.
The title of Chapter 19 is 'Focus and information structure', although in the table of contents the title is given simply as 'Focus'. It begins with an overview of different information structure strategies: left- and right-dislocation and the different focus constructions. Ma'di has several ways of focusing subjects and objects. Verbs, non- arguments or whole sentences can also be focused. The different focus constructions are discussed in detail. Contrastive and noncontrastive focus are distinguished, and the interaction between focus and the modal/negative elements is also described.
Chapter 20 'Questions' sheds light on the ways of forming interrogative sentences. In information questions the wh- element can remain in place or be left-dislocated. Yes-no questions are marked by sentence-final high tone (but in Ugandan Ma'di a final question particle is found instead). The chapter ends with a short discussion of implicatures carried by some interrogative strategies.
Chapter 21 'Lexicon' contains a general word list and more detailed treatments of selected semantic fields. The general word list, containing some 240 items, is an expanded version of the word list proposed in the Lingua descriptive studies questionnaire (Comrie and Smith 1977). Chapter 22 'Texts' concludes the book with two spoken texts covering some 60 pages altogether. These are given with interlinear glosses just like the examples in the grammar chapters.
The book provides a detailed and comprehensive description of the language. As the authors note (p. 11), this book together with Lojenga (1994) is thus far the only detailed grammar of any Central Sudanic language. Nevertheless, some previous work has been done on Ma'di and this is naturally taken into account in the book. The authors do not only state how thing are, but try to find arguments for their analyses. In general the analyses are plausible and well argued for (although I do not quite see why it is necessary to posit covert pronominal subjects for nonverbal predicates when no overt subject pronoun is present (p. 236-237)).
What I find particularly useful is the large number of well glossed examples. Each point is illustrated with more than one example (which is not always the case in reference grammars). It should be relatively 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.
As well as knowing which characteristics a language has, it is often useful to know what is lacking; users of this grammar will certainly appreciate the negative statements on page 42 (Ma'di shows neither downdrift nor downstep, nor is any use made of stress) and on page 109 (where we find a list of meanings that pronouns do not code).
The authors use the terms noninflected vs. inflected verbs, but the same inflection (the low tone prefix) is also present on the third structurally parallel verb form, the directive. Why not simply refer to these forms according to their function, i.e. past vs. nonpast, respectively, as is done with the directive? The usage adopted by the authors may be motivated by the fact that the forms sometimes do get other readings than the default past vs. nonpast ones. But the diverging cases are usually marginal, the only significant difference being the use of the past form for both past and nonpast in the negative. But it is by no means rare in the world's languages that a form assumes the function of another form in the negative (see e.g. Miestamo 2003).
More generally this touches upon the issue whether grammars should be written going from function to form or the other way around. In this grammar the starting point varies to some extent from chapter to chapter and even inside chapters, e.g. Chapter 12 on noun phrases is more formally delimited, whereas Chapter 14 on non-singular expressions starts more clearly from function. Of course, different audiences prefer different approaches. Typologists and other readers with a general linguistic point of view might find a function-based approach more useful, whereas historical linguists and specialists of Central Sudanic would perhaps vote for a more form-based organization.
In a form-based grammar, a good index can serve a reader interested in the ways different functions are encoded in the language, and vice versa. The index covers the most important terms, but some concepts that one would expect to find are missing, e.g. word order. There are a few Ma'di elements in the index, and some of the elements in the word list in Chapter 21 also include references to the grammar sections. A better solution would have been to give a separate and more extensive index for the Ma'di elements.
Often several alternative translations are given below examples. This welcome practice, rarely seen in reference grammars, highlights the fact that isolated examples can have different interpretations in different contexts. This is of course made possible by the fact that one of the authors is a native speaker (a grammar written by nonnative speakers is more dependent on the translations taken from the real discourse contexts of the examples). However, at many points readers could appreciate more comments on the different meanings and their contexts. The provenance of the examples is not clarified. Apparently many of them are constructed by the native speaker author, but are some examples elicited, and do some of them come from texts? One further point arising from my personal interests: the relationship between affirmatives and negatives is well described, but the chapter on negation would gain from presenting the corresponding affirmatives for each of the negative examples given.
For ease of reading, the authors deviate from the IPA standards in transcribing the vowels: they do not use the +ATR and -ATR diacritics, but use different symbols altogether for the vowels distinguished by the ATR feature. This may indeed contribute to ease of reading, but it can also create confusion, as the symbols usually mean something else than what they are used for in this grammar. I think IPA symbols should be used throughout in a scientific grammar. We are used to diacritics in many different contexts, so why should they be particularly detrimental to ease of reading when coding the ATR distinction?
A Grammar of Ma'di by Mairi Blackings and Nigel Fabb is an important contribution to the field of Central Sudanic linguistics, and there is no doubt that it will also have its place on the bookshelves of typologists making thus the language familiar to a wider audience of linguists.
Comrie, Bernard, and Norval Smith (1977) Lingua Descriptive Studies: Questionnaire. Lingua 42:1-72.
Crazzolara, J. P. (1960) A Study of the Logbara (Ma'di) Language. London: International African Institute, Oxford University Press.
Kutsch Lojenga, Constance (1994) Ngiti, A Central-Sudanic Language of Zaire. Nilo-Saharan 9. Köln: Rüdiger Köppe.
Miestamo, Matti (2003) Clausal Negation: A Typological Study. Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Helsinki.
Tucker, A. N. (1940) The Eastern Sudanic Languages. London: Oxford University Press.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Matti Miestamo is a researcher at the University of Helsinki, Department of General Linguistics. His interests are mainly typological. He wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on the typology of negation, and his current focus is on the complexity of natural languages.