A vivid commentary on Jewish survival and Jewish speech communities that will be enjoyed by the general reader, and is essential reading for students and researchers interested in the study of Middle Eastern languages, Jewish studies, and sociolinguistics.
AUTHOR: Tenser, Anton TITLE: Lithuanian Romani SERIES: Languages of the World/Materials 452 PUBLISHER: Lincom GmbH YEAR: 2005
Harald Hammarström, Graduate School of Language Technology, Chalmers University of Technology/Gothenburg University
The book at hand is aimed at describing Lithuanian Romani, a previously undescribed variety of Baltic Romani. The book is clearly written, chapter-wise evenly balanced and very concise -- only 62 pages -- it can be read from cover to cover in an hour or two.
Since there isn't any, the introduction contains no history of research but, in addition, it is in very scant on ethnographic information. Speaker numbers are assessed and the relevant political history of region is drawn up but no information is presented on the social conditions, subsistence patterns or history of the speakers in question. However, as linguists, we can glean some history through loans, which are predominantly from Polish and Russian, but curiously, in spite of a long time in Lithuanian territory, Lithuanian Romani has borrowed little or nothing from Lithuanian. The explanation given is that, although Lithuanian was spoken by a considerable population, it was not the dominant official or upper class form of communication during these times.
With this publication, the classification of Lithuanian Romani can be confirmed to be within the Northeastern (''Baltic'') group of Romani (as preliminarily assessed by Matras (2002: 10). However, the status of Lithuanian Romani or Baltic Romani as a separate language as opposed to dialect does not seem to have interested the author at all.
The book sets off describing phonology and the morphology of nouns, adjectives, verbs and the rest in the standard order and the standard way -- just the way one wants it. Every morpheme has been analyzed as to whether it is inherited or borrowed and its relation to other Romani varieties. These matters are obviously the main interest of the author and are masterfully categorized. Lithuanian Romani has borrowed massively into its lexicon and inventory of grammatical forms and functions. Except for old (mainly Greek) loans, everything is borrowed from Slavic, predominantly Polish and Russian. In this regard, one suspects the wording of the author is unnecessarily vague; often given as 'from Slavic', but the present reviewer has not found anything that is necessarily non-Polish non-Russian Slavic, let alone something necessarily South Slavic (unless absence of infinitives counts as South Slavic influence).
Despite the brevity, the author managed to attend to all the important matters; palatalization, stress, derivational, inflectional, valency changing morphology etc. However, only one or two exceptions to the presented paradigms are mentioned. Surely, in a language like this where we find fossilized case forms and lots of old stem classes, it would be remarkable if there weren't more individual idiosyncratic words.
Likewise, all major questions on clausal syntax are answered and phrasal syntax appears straightforward enough to glean from examples. Remarkably well-portioned tables and glossings give the reader an instant eagle-eye shot of the language. But to be able to speak the language one would need to know more details.
The description is based on the recordings of the Romani Dialectological Questionnaire (RDQ) (Elsík and Matras 2001) filled in by the author with 8 speakers, and in addition personal communication with recent Lithuanian Roma immigrants to Manchester. This brings me to my only disappointment with the book; everywhere in the descriptions of various morphological and syntactic phenomena we find comments like ''only such and such occurred in the sample'' so soon one builds up a great curiosity to know what and how much ''the sample'' contains. Presumably, the sample refers to the RDQ but nowhere is the scope and content of RDS elaborated on. If one wants to know, one has to set about to obtain the hard-to-find RDQ publication from Manchester University. It would have been much better if this information were contained within the covers of this book. Moreover, there are a couple of unnecessary gaps that should have been re-checked with the speakers when the sample wasn't enough. For example, only two ordinal number formations (vavir 'other/second' and oxto-to 'eighth', p. 15) are taken up, and we are told ''rarely yes/no questions are formed by the head-movement of the copula'' (p. 57). It would have been simple to elicit the information needed for a full treatment of these two cases.
This, although short, book is a great contribution in that it documents a previously undescribed variety. It has a few minor gaps in coverage but is in contrast very strong on the historical side.
Elsík, V. and Y. Matras (2001). Romani dialectological questionnaire. Department of Linguistics, University of Manchester.
Matras, Y. (2002). Romani: A Linguistic Introduction. Cambridge University Press.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Harald Hammarström is a PhD Student in Computational Linguistics at
the Depertment of Computing Science at Chalmers University of
Technology, Gothenburg, Sweden. His current research topic is
Unsupervised Learning of Concatenative Morphology but interests go
significantly wider and include linguistic typology and computational
linguistics in general.