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Review of  Linguistic Theory and Complex Words

Reviewer: Edward J. Vajda
Book Title: Linguistic Theory and Complex Words
Book Author: John Stonham
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
Linguistic Field(s): Morphology
Subject Language(s): Nootka
Book Announcement: 16.1104

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Date: Fri, 01 Apr 2005 10:23:17 +0200
From: Edward Vajda <>
Subject: Linguistic Theory and Complex Words: Nuuchahnulth word formation

AUTHOR: Stonham, John T.
TITLE: Linguistic Theory and Complex Words
SUBTITLE: Nuuchahnulth word formation
PUBLISHER: Palgrave Macmillan
YEAR: 2004

Edward J. Vajda
Western Washington University, Bellingham, Washington, and
Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig


Nuulchahnulth (formerly called Nootka) is an endangered Southern Wakashan
language spoken in several dialectal forms along the western coast of
Vancouver Island (British Columbia, Canada). Ever since the pioneering
work of Franz Boas (1890) and Edward Sapir (Sapir 1915, Sapir and Swadesh
1939), the highly complex morphological structure of this language has
attracted the attention of general linguists. Key features of typological
interest include the extreme suffixing polysynthesis, which permits only
one root per grammatical word form, as well as the use of tense affixes on
nouns as well as verbs. There is also a highly intricate series of
morphophonological rules that operate on different levels of word
formation. This book builds on the author's earlier work on the language,
notably Stonham's (1999) treatment of the phonology, which itself is quite
complex. Much of the data analyzed derives from fieldwork performed by
Edward Sapir in the early decades of the 20th century (cf. Sapir and
Swadesh 1939), when the Nuulchahnulth dialects were in a much better
sociolinguistic condition.

The book contains nine chapters, including an introduction and conclusion.
There is also a brief appendix containing examples of Nuulchahnulth
numeral classifiers (277-278). The bibliography (285-292) is extremely
thorough and references the earliest ethnographic works as well as the
increasing number of relevant publications on Southern Wakashan that have
appeared during the past several years.

The introduction (1-12) pays particular attention to earlier treatments of
Nuuchahnulth (henceforward "N") morphology and phonology, and to the
position of N in the southern branch of the Wakashan language family.
Although the book does not attempt to treat dialectal variation with any
degree of thoroughness, the dialect map on p. 6 and a number of comments
on local variation made throughout the book are very useful.

Chapter 2 (13-31) covers N segmental and prosodic phonology. Stonham
provides charts (7, 13-14) illustrating the correspondence between IPA
symbols and the actual phonetic symbols used in the book. The domain of
primary stress is identified as the first two syllables of the
phonological word. Also identified here is the phonological and
morphophonological patterning of such processes as glottalization,
lenition, coalescence, epenthetic rules involving the glottal stop, rules
involving the realization of length in variable-length vowels,
assimilations of various kinds, and processes of labialization and

Chapter 3 (32-63) initiates the discussion of such key notions
as "root", "stem", and "grammatical word". These definitions are an
important matter, since N is generally regarded as a language with allows
only one lexical root per word, and also displays significant
morphophonemic differences between its derivational and inflectional
suffixes. Stonham follows tradition by describing N lexical morphology as
based on a single root per word, which can be followed by a number of
suffixes chosen from a semantically rich array of functional groups. A
chart (37) illustrates that the prosodic structure of root morphemes
varies rather sharply according to part of speech, with 85% of verb roots
being monosyllabic, but only 15% of noun roots being multisyllabic. Also
discussed are the free forms of roots and their bound-form allomorphs,
whose final coda or final syllable often differ significantly. This
dichotomy functions in recently borrowed vocabulary, as well. Stonham
posits the notion of "stem" vs. inflected grammatical word to account for
allomophy triggered by whether the morpheme in questions occurs in
combination with aspectual affixes or derivational affixes. The author
also makes a proposal new to N linguistics, to distinguish between verbal
suffixes and what he calls "bound verbs". The latter are verbal morphemes
of rich semantic content that can be added to semantically
bleached "roots". What this discussion seems to reveal is that, while N
morphology is certainly characterized by an obligatory word-initial root
in a structural sense, the semantic center in many words is located in the
following "suffix", rather than in the word-initial morpheme. The word-
initial morpheme in such cases simply acts as a sort of slot filler. It is
important to take into account this occasional dichotomy between formal
vs. semantic head when attempting to form a typological assessment of N as
a language with word-initial roots followed by suffixes. The presence of
semantically empty verb "roots" allows for a great deal more semantic
richness in the "suffixes" that follow them. This chapter also lays out a
series of means for identifying major form classes, such as noun and verb,
in N.

Chapter 4 (64-120), which is entitled "Suffixation", discusses the
difference between inflectional and derivational meaning in the language.
Subsections treat each respective tense, mood, and aspectual category in
verbs, as well as categories such as alienable vs. inalienable possession,
causation, and plurality. A distinction in derivation is drawn (110)
between so-called "governing" suffixes, which add a new central notion to
the stem, and "restrictive" suffixes, which simply modify or clarify some
property already present in the base to which they are added (such as
dimension, quality, etc). A restrictive suffix, for example, might add a
notion such as "perceive X", where X is the referential notion expressed
in the base to which this suffix is added. Once again, the notion of
semantic "headedness" is appealed to distinguish between these types of

In Chapter 5 (121-143), Stonham appeals to a templatic model of analysis
to account for reduplication and infixation in N. While infixes are rather
restricted in their function, reduplication makes a variety of semantic
contributions to both derivation and inflection. This chapter discusses
inventories these processes from a semantic as well as formal standpoint.

Chapter 6 (144-177) discusses what the author calls "stratal segregation",
following the contributions made by Lexical Phonology to the study of
different morphological domains. Using formalisms provided by Optimality
Theory, Stonham posits two layers in N morphology: a stem level (Stratum
I) and a word level (Stratum II). Additionally, certain phenomena - such
as clitic attachment in the morphology and aspiration in the phonology -
are shown to occur post-lexically. His analysis succeeds in providing an
elegant account of the specific behavior of a variety of phonological and
morphological processes.

Chapter 7 (178-209) returns again to the issue of reduplication. Stonham
introduces a foot-based template as a device for describing the specific
rules that govern this process. He also touches on style of "abnormal
speech", defined as involving "various permutations of conventional
phonemes in order to convey certain extra-linguistic information to the
listener." Here again the template is useful. This chapter only briefly
mentions the interesting topic of special speech styles in N - a subject
first discussed at length by Edward Sapir (1915) and which is treated in
some detail in Stonham (1999:111-125).

Chapter 8 (210-271), entitled 'morphosyntax', begins with a discussion of
tests for clitic-hood. Incorporation is also discussed here. Stonham
argues that incorporation does not violate the "one root per word rule" in
N since only bound verbal roots - defined as morphemes that have a free
form as well as an bound form - can be incorporated. Bound forms that
retain a morphophonemic relationship with a free form and thus resemble
roots are attached to a semantically bleached root that acts as a base.
Other incorporees display a suppletive relationship with respect to their
free-form synonyms and can attach to fully semantic roots. This property
of concatenation of richly meaningful suffixes somewhat resembles the type
of polysynthesis found in Eskimoan languages. Stonham distinguishes
between lexical incorporation - a process that results in new stems - and
syntactic incorporation, where a sentence element is incorporated for
pragmatic purposes. Unlike lexical incorporation, which involves an
idiomatic semantic relationship between the morphemes brought together in
a single word form, syntactic incorporation does not create new lexical
items. In the latter case, the verb root plus incorporee do not yield a
novel semantic unit, but retain all of the functional qualities of a free
syntactic phrase. Given this morphological property, N even allows for the
incorporation of non-head elements such as quantifiers. The difference
between lexical and syntactic incorporation posited here by the author for
N is well reasoned and is clearly demonstrated by the data presented. The
chapter next examines the syntactic and semantic properties of six
different types of noun + noun collocations, some of which provide close
analogs to compounds in other languages. There is also a thorough
treatment of the language's system of numeral classifiers and a balanced
discussion of pros and cons regarding whether inflectional morphemes
should be treated as suffixes or clitics. The functional aspects of
inflectional morphology are not treated exhaustively here and the topic is
left open for further investigation.

A brief final chapter (272-276) reiterates the various conclusions and
findings put forward in the preceding chapters.


This thorough treatment of Nuuchahnulth morphology succeeds very nicely on
a number of levels. It presents the most complete and detailed picture of
the morphology available anywhere, and thus offers much to general
typologists. In addition to the wealth of language data covered, its
explanatory approach is informed by a number of current linguistic
theories, making it highly relevant to morphologists of all backgrounds.
The discussion should be of special interest to linguists working in the
framework of Optimality Theory as well as to anyone interested in
templatic morphological structures. Despite the complexity of the subject
matter, the prose is consistently clear and the argumentation well
reasoned. This book will prove essential to anyone attempting to unravel
the many intricacies of word formation in this language. Anyone interested
in the topic of polysynthesis cross-linguistically should certainly take
stock of the data so expertly accounted for here. Finally, it could also
serve to stimulate further synchronic as well as diachronic research into
Southern Wakashan language structure.


Boas, Franz (1890) 'The Nootka.' Report of the 60th meeting of the British
Association for the Advancement of Science, pp. 582-604.

Sapir, Edward (1915) 'Abnormal speech styles in Nootka.' Geological
Survey, Memoir 62, Anthropological Series No. 5. Ottawa, Canada.

Sapir, Edward and Morris Swadesh (1939) Nootka texts, tales and
ethnological narratives, with grammatical notes and lexical materials.
Philadelphia & Baltimore, MD: Linguistics Society of America.

Stonham, John T. (1999) Aspects of Tsishaath Nootka phonetics and
phonology. Lincom: Munich.


Edward J. Vajda is professor of linguistics, Russian language, and
Eurasian studies at Western Washington University. He is an editor of the
journal Word. His research interests include morphological typology, as
well as the study of minority languages of the Russian Federation. For the
past several years he has been intensively involved in descriptive
research on the structure of Ket, a language isolate spoken by a few
hundred people in Central Siberia near the Yenisei River.

Format: Hardback
ISBN: 1403903484
ISBN-13: N/A
Pages: 320
Prices: U.K. £ 55