Review of The Yearbook of South Asian Languages and Linguistics
Date: Mon, 27 Jun 2005 17:00:37 -0700 (PDT)
From: Sanford Steever <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Yearbook of South Asian Languages and Linguistics
EDITOR: Singh, Rajendra
TITLE: The Yearbook of South Asian Languages and Linguistics
PUBLISHER: Mouton de Gruyter
Sanford B. Steever, unaffiliated scholar
The latest in a series of yearbooks, "The Yearbook of South Asian
Languages and Linguistics" 2004 is more than a simple collection of
papers. It contains invited articles, referred papers, regional reports,
book reviews, and dialogs, all aimed at giving the reader a cross-
section of the state of current and on-going research on the
languages and linguistics of the South Asian linguistic area.
The first of two invited articles, Donegan and Stampe's "Rhythm and
the synthetic drift of Munda" (pp. 3-36) puts forth the thesis that many
of the features of Munda languages that are traditionally said to be
Indic are due less to areal influence from Indo-Aryan and Dravidian
languages and more to a shift from a rising to a falling phrase and
word rhythm that accompanies, if not precipitates, correlative shifts in
other levels of grammar, such as a change from head-initial to head-
final marking and a drift from analysis to synthesis. The various
changes in Munda are contrasted with other Austro-Asiatic languages
not found in South Asia, as well as Indo-Aryan and Dravidian. The
changes within Munda are held to be primarily the result of internal
changes within the various languages, with areal influence playing at
best a secondary role.
Singh and Singh's paper, "The possible and the impossible in Bengali
word formation: some problems in nominalization (pp. 37-53)," looks at
three kinds of nominalization that a Bangla verb can undergo. The
authors seek to determine why some verbs, but not others, undergo
the individual kinds of nominalization. While no specific motivations
can be teased out for individual variations, the authors determine that
certain nominalizations are slowly spreading through the lexicon.
Annamalai's first paper, "Case and argument structure in Tamil (pp.
57-99)," discusses the alignment in Tamil of case marking, semantic
roles and argument structure. He broadly construes case marking to
include bound case suffixes, postpositions and complexes of suffixes
and postpositions. He presents and discusses several discontinuities
between these three dimensions of linguistic structure, incidentally
providing one of the most extensive treatments of case and case
marking in Tamil yet to appear.
Paul's "The semantics of Bangla compound verbs" (pp.101-111)
studies whether certain Bangla compound verb constructions can be
brought under the heading of aspect, broadly construed, by using
Langacker's concept of profiling. The aspectual verb in such
compounds typically profiles a specific facet of the event named by
the verb it modifies, whereas using the simple, unmodified "main" verb
by itself does not provide such a specification.
Vasisth's "Discourse content and word order preferences in Hindi"
(pp. 113-127) attempts to determine what kinds of processing factors
condition the acceptability of certain Hindi sentences with non-
canonical word order. He examines the distance hypothesis, i.e., the
greater the raw distance between a dependent and its head, the more
difficulty in processing, as against the discourse context hypothesis,
which claims that as the number of new referents between
dependents and heads increases, the greater the difficulty in
processing. Through a series of experiments designed to clarify the
empirical consequences of the two hypotheses, Vasisth shows that
the two appear to be differentially sensitive to the distinction between
indirect objects and direct objects.
The first of the regional reports, Peterson's "Europe" (pp. 131-144) is
a discussion of the recent scholarly literature on South Asian
languages and linguistics originating from Europe-based scholars.
While Indo-Aryan, Tibeto-Burman and Austro-Asiatic are well enough
represented, Dravidian is not. As with the other regional reports, it
provides a strong bibliography.
Annamalai's second contribution, "An interpretive survey of Tamil
studies in Tamil (pp. 145-162)," looks at two distinct ways in which the
Tamil language is approached and studied in Tamil language
publications. While there are examples of modern linguistic studies of
the language, much of what appears is written by language mavens,
traditionalists or pundits. With some notable exceptions, the insights of
modern linguistics appear not to have deeply penetrated Tamil
Bhatia's "North America" (pp. 163-172) looks at articles, books and
dissertations originating in North America, predominantly the United
States. Here Dravidian is better served. One important issue Bhatia
takes up is the development of interactive teaching materials for South
Asian languages. In the course of this discussion, he laments the lack
of non-western fonts by commercial enterprises. This is, of course,
becoming less of a problem as fonts and font libraries are developed
here and in South Asia.
Kandiah's contribution (pp. 173-196) discusses how the ideology of
postcolonialism is affecting language scholarship and language
teaching in contemporary Sri Lanka, a debate that has many echoes
throughout the subcontinent. Much of the article treats attempts to
disengage the use of English as part of Sri Lanka's colonial heritage,
and the consequences of doing so, particularly in the field of
Smith, Paauw and Hussainmiya's article on Sri Lanka Malay (pp. 173-
215) is a very valuable introduction to a Malay-based creole in Sri
Lanka that has been strongly influenced by Tamil (where one can
distinguish between Tamil and Sinhala in terms of typology). This
article provides a thumb-nail sketch of the language and its
community, and points out several pertinent areas for future research.
The five book reviews include Bakker's review of Bhaskararao and
Subbarao's "The Tokyo symposium on South Asian languages" (pp.
217-223), Lindstedt's review of "Dasgupta, Ford and Singh's "After
etymology: Towards a substantive linguistics" (pp. 224-225),
Bubenik's review of Deshpande and Hook's "Indian linguistic studies.
Festschrift in honor of George Cardona" (pp. 229-235), Itiaz Hasnain's
review of Itagi and Singh's "Linguistic landscaping in India with
particular reference to the new states" (pp. 236-238) and
Zuckermann's review of Kuczkiewicz-Fras' "Perso-Arabic hybrids in
Hindi" (pp. 239-244). These reviews appear, on the whole, to be well-
balanced readings of the books.
Two final contributions round out this volume. Hasnain and
Rajyashree's "Hindustani as an Anxiety between Hindi-Urdu
Commitment" and Trivedi's "The anxiety of Hindustani" are both
ruminations on historical, political and sociological factors behind the
convergence and divergence of Hindi and Urdu. These two chapters
may be seen as an often impassioned dialog concerning the
polarization of two varieties of a language along social and national
lines. The concern over the loss of Urdu as a medium in post-
Independence India recalls to me the laments of Mughal poets over
the loss of a courtly society (three hundred years ago), underlining the
fact that language loyalty in South Asia is often emotionally informed.
Donegan and Stampe's paper adds to the growing literature that is
skeptical of the primary role of areal influence in the development of
individual South Asian languages. In footnote 13, they observe
approvingly that my 1993 study of object marking in certain Dravidian
verbs is not exactly paralleled by the incorporation of pronominal
objects in Munda languages. In my paper, "Morphological
convergence in the Khondmals (Steever 1981)," I present a more
elaborate case for the independent development of object-marking
verbs in Dravidian and Munda, rather than having one directly
influence the other.
Singh and Singh's paper conjectures that some forms of
nominalization they cover are spreading through the lexicon, but do
not identify the grammatical (sociolinguistic?) channels through which
they are spreading. This chapter has the feeling of being an appendix
to a larger project, one which I hope we will see. Reading was greatly
hampered by the fact that none of the Bangla words are provided with
translations, which will render the article largely opaque to non-Bangla
In connection with Annamalai's first paper, my paper "Noun
incorporation in Tamil (Steever 1981)," discusses certain nouns that
are incorporated into verbs (and appear in the nominative case) but
do not directly reflect semantic roles or argument structure. That such
forms have any case marking, the unmarked nominative case, reflects
the fact that as nouns in Tamil, these predicates must be pronounced
with nominal morphology. Controlling for this in a further development
of the ideas put forth in his chapter would allow the author to hone in
more closely on argument structure and semantic roles. There is one
misspelling: p. 61 nalllavaanaa should be nallavaanaa.
With the small sample of Bangla forms in Paul's brief article, it is
difficult to determine whether the specifications he ascribes to certain
auxiliary, or vector, verbs tend more toward lexical idiosyncrasies or
grammatical generalizations. A larger sampling, the use of "negative
data" and attention to Vendler-type categories such as
accomplishment, achievement, etc. may permit the author eventually
to make more specific observations.
The issue of documenting endangered languages, of which there are
many in the subcontinent, is addressed directly only in Smith, Paauw
and Hussainmiya's article and obliquely in Bhatia's report. The latter
presents a synopsis of Gail Coelho's University of Texas dissertation
on the Dravidian language Betta Kurumba. Given the devastation of
the December 26 tsunami to marginal communities and, therefore, to
their languages, particularly in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, I
hope that future volumes in this series will want to take up this
important topic with more of a focus.
Overall, the contents of the volume reflect the broad diversity of
linguistic perspectives scholars bring to bear on the languages of the
subcontinent. Descriptive, areal, historical, psycholinguistic and other
orientations are currently being brought to bear on South Asia's
languages. It is, in fact, a pleasure to read a collection whose
constituent articles do not all revolve around a specific grammatical
theme or theoretical framework. The editor has done a fine job in
making these studies and concerns available to general linguists.
The one significant problem with this volume, as with its immediate
predecessor, is the lack of an index. Given the number of indexing
utilities currently available to publishers, this oversight ought not
persist in subsequent volumes.
Steever, Sanford. 1981. Selected papers in Tamil and Dravidian
linguistics. Madurai: Muttu Patippakam.
Steever, Sanford. 1993. Analysis to synthesis: The development of
complex verb forms in Dravidian. Oxford and New York: Oxford
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Sanford Steever's interests include syntax, morphology and historical
linguistics. He has studied and researched various languages of
South Asia, including Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Pali, Sinhala, Kodagu
and Kurux. His book, "The Tamil auxiliary verb system," is being
released this summer.