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Review of  Timbisha (Panamint)

Reviewer: Maziar Toosarvandani
Book Title: Timbisha (Panamint)
Book Author: John E. McLaughlin
Publisher: Lincom GmbH
Linguistic Field(s): Language Documentation
Subject Language(s): Timbisha
Issue Number: 17.2840

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AUTHOR: McLaughlin, John E.
TITLE: Timbisha (Panamint)
SERIES: Languages of the World/Materials 453
YEAR: 2005

Maziar Toosarvandani, Department of Linguistics, University of California,

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:

'train' (Dayley 1989a:236; interlinear added)

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.

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).

Format: Paperback
ISBN: 3895862428
ISBN-13: N/A
Pages: 71
Prices: U.S. $ 43.92
U.K. £ 25.20