Language Evolution: The Windows Approach addresses the question: "How can we unravel the evolution of language, given that there is no direct evidence about it?"
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AUTHOR: McLaughlin, John E. TITLE: Timbisha (Panamint) SERIES: Languages of the World/Materials 453 PUBLISHER: Lincom GmbH YEAR: 2005
Maziar Toosarvandani, Department of Linguistics, University of California, Berkeley
This thin book of 65 pages consists of a sketch grammar of the phonology and morphology of Timbisha (also called Panamint or Tümpisa Shoshone in the literature), a Uto-Aztecan language of the Numic family (Central Numic branch) spoken in and around Death Valley, California. Like other volumes in the Lincom Europa Languages of the World/Materials series, the target readers of this volume are linguists with typological interests. The volume is comprised of three parts.
The first part 'Introductory Remarks' (pp. 1-3) treats the geographic, linguistic, and social environment of Timbisha. The data the sketch grammar is based on come primarily from the author's own fieldwork on an undocumented variety of Timbisha that he calls 'Eastern' Timbisha, which is spoken in the Grapevine Canyon and Beatty communities located north and east of Death Valley. In contrast, previous work on the language, excluding the author's own (1987) dissertation on which the sketch is based, focused on the dialect spoken in Death Valley itself (cf. Dayley 1989a,b).
The second section (pp. 4-11) describes the language's phonology. Inventories of vowel and consonant phonemes are provided along with descriptions of those phonological processes that are characteristic of the Numic languages. These include vowel devoicing, consonant gradation, and what is called in the Numic tradition 'final features' (phonological alternations in the first consonant of a morpheme induced by a lexically-specified property of the preceding morpheme).
The third section, which deals with Timbisha's agglutinative morphology, is more extensive than the previous two (pp. 12-64). It covers nominal morphology, the inventory of pronominal elements, the morphology of adjectives and adverbs, and verbal morphology. This last area of the morphology is probably the most intricate and a large part of the section is dedicated to examining some of the most typological interesting features of Timbisha, including noun incorporation, instrumental prefixes, secondary verbs, switch reference marking, and the interrelated system of nominalizing and subordinating suffixes.
The volume concludes with a selective bibliography (half a page).
In general, I found the volume to be clearly written and free of typographical errors. Most of those points that are of typological interest were covered in a degree of depth that is suited to the purpose of the volume as an introduction to the language.
The major gap that I found in the grammar was the lack of any discussion of Timbisha syntax. Whether or not McLaughlin's modest statement that Dayley's (1989a) discussion of the language's syntax is 'unlikely to be surpassed' is true or not, the readers of this volume would have benefited greatly from the inclusion of a section on the syntax of Tibisha.
Some of the most interesting morphological features of the language cannot be treated fully without some discussion of syntax. Take, for instance, the 'nominalizing suffixes' (pp. 47-48), one of which, -tü(n), derives subject nominals from verbs, as in the following example:
If one solely considers examples like this, -tü(n) appears to be simple derivational morphology. As in many of the other Numic languages, however, a formally-identical suffix is used to create relative clauses, as shown below:
Patukuntu [atü paa kuppantü mi'atü] tape hannihamminna akkutu. reflection that water in go-SUB sun catch-HAB there-through 'The reflection that was going into the water was catching the sun there.' (Dayley 1989a:359)
What -tü(n) is, then, is a bit more complicated than one would first think, and its function is either fundamentally syntactic in nature or intimately connected with it.
The volume is also significant as a contribution to the documentation of a moribund variety of Timbisha. As such, it would have been useful if there had been some discussion of the ways in which the Eastern dialect differs from better studied varieties. Furthermore, neither texts nor a list of vocabulary were included in the volume, both of which would be essential for any adequate documentation of the language.
Finally, it seems to me that in addition to simply providing an introduction to Timbisha, a sketch grammar like the one under consideration should provide a reasonably comprehensive bibliography of works on the language that the interested reader could make reference to for further investigations. Unfortunately, the short list of references included in this volume, four in total, makes jumping off into the literature on Timbisha difficult.
These small points should not detract from the value of the book, both as an introduction for linguists looking for an overview of Timbisha, as well as the documentation of a previously unstudied variety of the language.
Dayley, John P. 1989a. Tümpisa (Panamint) Shoshone Grammar. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Dayley, John P. 1989b. Tümpisa (Panamint) Shoshone Dictionary. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
McLaughlin, John Earls. 1987. A Phonology and Morphology of Panamint. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Kansas.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Maziar Toosarvandani is a graduate student in the linguistics department at the University of California, Berkeley. He is interested in syntactic theory and formal semantics, with most of his research focussing on the Iranian languages, in particular Farsi and Dari (Northwestern Iranian), and the Numic languages, specifically Northern Paiute (Western Numic).