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Review of  A Grammar of Teiwa

Reviewer: Nicholas Sims-Williams
Book Title: A Grammar of Teiwa
Book Author: Marian Klamer
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Language Documentation
Linguistic Theories
Anthropological Linguistics
Subject Language(s): Tewa
Issue Number: 22.3994

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AUTHOR: Klamer, Marian

TITLE: A Grammar of Teiwa

SERIES TITLE: Mouton Grammar Library [MGL] 49

PUBLISHER: De Gruyter Mouton
YEAR: 2010

Nicholas J. Williams, Department of Linguistics, University of Colorado at Boulder


This book is the first published grammatical description of Teiwa, an endangered
non-Austronesian language spoken by about 4,000 speakers in the northeastern
region of Pantar, a small island in southeastern Indonesia. Teiwa is a member of
the proposed (Timor)-Alor-Pantar (TAP) language family. Wider genetic
affiliation of Teiwa and the TAP languages remains unclear, though some have
suggested an affiliation with Trans New Guinea based on correspondence of
pronominal forms (Ross 2005). ''A Grammar of Teiwa'' is the most in-depth study of
a TAP language to date. In addition to a lengthy description of the grammar (423
pages), the book also includes two narrative texts and two songs (25 pages), an
English - Teiwa/Teiwa - English word list of 1,312 items, and an index.

In Chapter 1 Klamer provides a detailed introduction to Teiwa and the
surrounding languages, including information on the geography, history, and
culture of Alor and Pantar (AP). This chapter surveys the claims regarding
genetic affiliations of the AP languages, situates Teiwa in its areal and
typological context, and describes the methods and data used for the study. The
description is based on approximately four months of fieldwork conducted by the
author (2003 - 2007) and about 2.5 hours of recorded material. A variety of
native speakers assisted in transcription and data collection, making this
description representative of the broader Teiwa speech community.

In the remaining chapters (2 - 11) Klamer describes the structure of Teiwa,
starting with segmental phonology and ending with information structure. The
majority of the book is devoted to clause level phenomena including the verb
phrase, noun phrase, grammatical relations, serial verb constructions, etc. The
remainder of this review follows Klamer's (1999) own model for reviewing
grammars. Rather than summarize each chapter, I will highlight theoretically and
typologically interesting aspects of the language.

The phonology of Teiwa is relatively simple with just 8 vowels and 20
consonants. The consonant inventory contains some typologically and areally rare
segments, including a uvular stop /q/ and a pharyngeal fricative /ħ/. Teiwa also
makes a contrast between /l/ and /r/, a feature shared by all the AP languages,
but rare for Papuan languages in general (Foley 1986). As for vowels, a length
contrast exists, but is limited to /i/ and /u/. Phonetic processes include the
unrounding and centralizing effect of /ħ/ on immediately following stressed
vowels (/ħu/, /ħɑ/, and /ħɔ/ are realized as [ħɨ], [ħɜ] and [ħʌ], respectively)
and the assimilation of nasals with the place of the following stop or liquid.
Consonant clusters are restricted to onsets in which the second consonant is a
liquid (/l/ or /r/). Stress is trochaic, with a few exceptions due to quantity
sensitivity (heavy syllables attract stress) and the existence of prosodic word
compounds. Full, but no partial, reduplication is a productive part of the

Major word classes include nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, demonstratives,
and spatial deictics. Teiwa is a largely isolating language, with little
inflectional or derivational morphology. Thus, evidence for these distinct word
classes is limited. Nouns are defined by their inability to reduplicate (in
contrast with verbs, adjectives, and adverbs). Only verbs can take the realis
suffix and object prefixes. Adjectives modify nouns, can be used predicatively,
and do not take the realis suffix. Adverbs cannot be used predicatively. Adverbs
are limited and most ''adverbial notions'' are expressed by serial verb

Among these word classes, of particular interest are the numerous pronominal
paradigms in Teiwa. These include the typical subject, object, and possessor
pronouns, as well as dual pronouns and pronouns with more idiosyncratic
semantics, such as 'x and they,' 'x alone,' and 'x as a group of pronouns'.
Subject and possessor pronouns have both short and long forms. In addition to
this multitude of pronominal paradigms, several cross-linguistically uncommon
forms exist in each one, such as the '3p elsewhere' and 'distributive' pronouns.
Teiwa distinguishes 1p exclusive and inclusive, common for AP languages, but
rare in Papuan languages more generally. Finally, 3rd person pronominals are
losing their distinction in number, with the singular form used most frequently
for both singular and plural referents.

Demonstratives and spatial deictics are described separately, though there is no
clear morphosyntactic evidence for their status as distinct word classes.
Demonstratives in Teiwa include the adnominals 'a' 'proximate,' 'u' 'distal,'
'i' 'forthcoming,' 'waal' 'that (previously) mentioned,' and 'eran' 'that one,'
as well as the pronominals 'xa'a' 'this one,' 'xu'u' 'that one,' 'laxa'a' 'this
one here,' and 'laxu'u' 'that one there.' Adverbial demonstratives include 'i
xa'a' and 'i xu'u' for '(over)here' and '(over)there.' The first two adnominals
(a and u) have been analyzed as basically spatial, while i, waal, and eran have
basic discourse functions. 'Ga'an', the third person singular object pronoun, is
also frequently used as a demonstrative with a discourse function (referent
tracking and ''emphasis'' (p. 137)). This analysis leaves one wondering what
discourse functions a and u might have, particularly when many examples
throughout the book show use of multiple demonstratives in a single noun phrase
(e.g. [ga-manak ga'an u xu'u] -- '3s-master 3s distal', (p. 177) or [a
bali [eran waal u]] -- '3s see that.mentioned that', translated simply
as ''she sees that'' (p. 306)). In general, the analysis of demonstratives and
other spatial deictics (not described here) is preliminary, as the author
herself acknowledges. This is obviously a rich area for further research.

Basic word order in Teiwa is SV (in intransitive clauses) and APV or, basically,
SOV, (in transitive clauses). This is relatively strict, apart from possible
extraposition of objects (PAV for full-NP objects and AVP for pronominal
objects). Teiwa clearly distinguishes subjects and objects, lacking the
''semantic alignment'' commonly found in other AP languages (Klamer 2008,
Kratochvil 2007, Baird 2008, Holton 2009). However, while S and A arguments are
all treated the same (as subjects), P arguments receive differential marking
based on the animacy of the object. Animate objects are obligatorily expressed
by verbal prefixes, with an optional lexical NP or full pronoun. Inanimate
objects cannot be expressed by object prefixes. Instead, they are encoded with
lexical NPs or pronouns. Teiwa verbs are restricted to intransitives and
mono-transitives, with no ditransitive verbs. Expression of three participant
events involves the use of serial verb constructions to introduce the additional
participant. Somewhat unusual cross-linguistically is the use of the deictic
verb 'ma' 'come' in these ''ditransitive'' constructions (verbs meaning 'take' are
more common).

Other notable features of the grammar include an alienable/inalienable
distinction, the marking of reality status on verbs, the frequent use of serial
verb constructions, the lack of embedded structures, and the existence of
devoted topic and focus markers. Each of these topics will be described very

The alienable/inalienable distinction is marked through the use of an optional
prefix and long-form pronouns for emphasis with alienable nouns, while
inalienable nouns occur with obligatory prefixes and short-form pronouns for
emphasis of the possessor. Inalienable nouns are limited to body part and kin

In chapter 7, Klamer describes the use of the only non-argument related verbal
morphology, '-an', the realis marker. The use of this morpheme distinguishes
''reality status'' as a category distinct from mood and modality, although it
interacts with mood in interesting ways. Most notable in this regard is the
optionality of realis marking on past and future events, questions, and
prohibitives, in each case giving the expression of the event a different
quality if marked realis. Rather unexpectedly, negated verbs can be marked
either realis or irrealis (irrealis is expected for negated forms). Klamer
leaves the meaning of this variation as an open question.

Serial verb constructions (described in chapter 9) play an important role in the
language, used to express various ''adverbial notions,'' to encode modality and
aspect, and to introduce additional participants, among other functions.

In chapter 10 (''Clause combinations'') Klamer argues for a lack of subordination
or embedding in Teiwa, including a lack of relative clauses (all surprising for
a ''Papuan'' language and contra Foley 1986). In general, clause combination in
Teiwa typically involves simple juxtaposition, with optional use of temporal and
coordinating conjunctions. There is a lack of special verb forms in combined
clauses and no ''switch-reference'' marking (also unusual for a Papuan language).

Finally, chapter 11 presents analysis of information structure in Teiwa, noting
the existence of both a dedicated focus marker (la) and a topic marker (ta).
While 'la' is used to mark new information, 'ta' marks a shift in topic, a
''topic discontinuity,'' often re-introducing something previously discussed. In
this chapter Klamer also describes the discourse function of the demonstratives
'waal' and 'i'.


A Grammar of Teiwa is an excellent description of an endangered and previously
undocumented language. To date, as noted above, it is the most detailed study of
an Alor-Pantar language. This makes it an important contribution to the growing
literature on these languages and Papuan languages more generally.

I have a few critical comments on two significant formatting issues with the
book. First, elicited and text-based examples are not distinguished.
Furthermore, the source of each example is never indicated, making it difficult
to find out more about the context of the utterance. Since many of the examples
presumably were taken from texts such as those in the appendix, it would be
extremely helpful to the reader to link each example to the specific text from
which it was taken. The second issue with the formatting has to do with the
surprising frequency of typographical errors in the text (at the rate of maybe
one every few pages, roughly -- I stopped noting them after the first chapter).
While they do not detract significantly from flow of the book and offer no
problem for understanding the text, they are an occasional irritation.

Aside from these formatting issues, this grammar is a most enjoyable read. While
some areas of the grammar remain underexplored, Klamer does an excellent job of
describing enough of the language in sufficient detail to allow further
investigation based on the available texts. Open questions and underexplored
areas are acknowledged as such. Despite the relatively short time the author
spent in the field, she demonstrates deep knowledge of the language. This book
will become an important resource for scholars working on Papuan languages and
Alor-Pantar languages in particular. The data and analyses provided will be
valuable to linguists more generally, especially typologists interested in
topics as diverse as grammatical relations, serial verb constructions, verbal
morphology (e.g. reality status marking), as well as demonstratives and spatial


Baird, Louise. 2008. A Grammar of Klon: A Non-Austronesian Language of Alor,
Indonesia. (Pacific Linguistics 596). Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.

Dixon, R. M. W. (1979). Ergativity. Language, 55 (1), 59-138. (Revised as Dixon

Foley, William A. 1986. The Papuan Languages of New Guinea. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.

Holton, Gary. 2009. Person-marking, verb classes, and the notion of grammatical
alignment in Western Pantar (Lamma). Typological and Areal Analyses:
Contributions from East Nusantara, ed. by M. Ewing & M. Klamer, 97-117.
Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.

Klamer, Marian. 1999. Review of Grammar of Tukang Besi (1999) by Mark Donohue,
(Mouton de Gruyter: Berlin/New York), LinguistList 10.1439, October, 1999.

Klamer, Marian. 2008. The Semantics of Semantic Alignment in eastern Indonesia.
In: Mark Donohue & Søren Wichmann, eds. Typology of Active-Stative Languages,
pp. 221-251. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kratochvíl, František. 2007. A Grammar of Abui, Leiden University Ph.D.

Ross, Malcolm. 2005. Pronouns as a preliminary diagnostic for grouping Papuan
languages. In: Andrew Pawley, Robert Attenborough, Robin Hide & Jack Golson,
eds. Papuan pasts: cultural, linguistic and biological histories of
Papuan-speaking peoples. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics. pp. 15--66.

Nicholas Williams is a PhD student at the University of Colorado at Boulder, USA. He is beginning a project to document the Kula language of eastern Alor for his doctoral dissertation. His interests include language documentation and description, Papuan and Austronesian languages, interactional linguistics, conversation analysis, and linguistic anthropology.

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