LINGUIST List 12.3099

Sat Dec 15 2001

Review: Frajzingier, A Grammar of Lele

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  • Michael Cysouw, Review of Frajzyngier (2001) A Grammar of Lele

    Message 1: Review of Frajzyngier (2001) A Grammar of Lele

    Date: Thu, 13 Dec 2001 11:08:00 +0100
    From: Michael Cysouw <>
    Subject: Review of Frajzyngier (2001) A Grammar of Lele

    Frajzyngier, Zygmunt (2001) A Grammar of Lele. CSLI Publications, xviii+493pp, paperback ISBN 1-57586-257-3, Stanford Monographs in African Languages.

    Michael Cysouw, Zentrum f�r Allgemeine Sprachwissenschaft, Berlin

    INTRODUCTION This grammar of Lele (a Chadic language spoken in Chad) is the third of a series of extensive grammars of Chadic languages written by Frajzyngier (cf. 1989; 1993). They can all three be characterised as very detailed descriptions of hitherto undescribed languages. The grammar of Lele even surpasses the standards of Frajzyngier's previous grammars. Many fine details of the language are described in extenso, illustrated by numerous examples. The tour-de-force of compiling such a grammar from scratch cannot be underestimated. There are so many different themes discussed in the grammar that I have to make a selection for this review. After presenting a synopsis of this book, I will only discuss a few, rather randomly chosen, aspects of the grammar of Lele as described by Frajzyngier.

    SYNOPSIS The grammar consists of 28 chapters, some rather short. No attempt is made to group this large number of chapters into a higher-order structure. This is particularly unfortunate because the order of the chapters (after the first few) makes at times a rather haphazard impression. There is also no subject index, which makes it even more important for such a reference work to be clearly structured. Below I propose a higher-order structure for the grammar along traditional lines. A nice side-effect of this organisation is that all parts are roughly of equal length (40-60 pages), except for the part 'Argument structure', which is twice as long as the others.

    - Introduction: Ch. 1: Introduction. - Phonology: Ch. 2: Phonology. - Noun Phrase structure: Ch. 3: The Structure of the Noun Phrase. - Verb Phrase structure: Ch. 6: Tenses; Ch. 7: Aspect and Pragmatically Dependent Clauses; Ch. 8: Coding the Deixis of an Event; Ch. 12: Modality. - Argument structure: Ch. 4: Coding Arguments; Ch. 5: Adjuncts; Ch. 11: Reference System. - Basic clause structure: Ch. 9: Equational Clauses; Ch. 10: Possessive, Locative and Existential Clauses; Ch. 13: Interrogative Clauses; Ch. 14: Negation; Ch. 25: Comparative Constructions. - Subordination: Ch. 19: Complementation; Ch. 20: Complementation through the Referential Marker; Ch. 21: Complementation through Nominalization; Ch. 26: Relative Clauses. - Clause combining: Ch. 18: Paratactic and Conjoined Clauses; Ch. 22: Adjunct Clauses, Ch. 23: Temporal Sentences; Ch. 24: Conditional Sentences. - Information structure: Ch. 15: Focus Construction; Ch. 16: Topicalization; Ch. 17: Backgrounding; Ch. 27: Elements of Discourse Structure in Lele. - Texts: Ch. 28: A Sample of Lele Texts.

    The grammar is a goldmine of example sentences. Every statement about the structure of the language is illustrated with at least one sentence, but often more than one, that shows the particular structure under discussion. All of the very many example sentences in the grammar are glossed exhaustively. The thirty pages of complete texts - also fully glossed - at the end of the book are another indication of the wealth of data that is collected in the almost 500 pages.

    A major omission of the book is the absence of any indices. A subject index might have been practical, but is not really necessary. In contrast, an index of all functional morphemes that are discussed in the book would have been a major addition to the grammar. The point is that many grammaticalised elements in Lele have various grammatical functions - discussed in various places throughout the grammar. For a reader that is not intimately acquainted with the language, such multi-functional morphemes are difficult to track down. Yet, from the perspective of grammaticalisation it would be very interesting to have a survey of the functional diversity covered by one and the same morpheme. An index would be of great help here.

    For example, the ventive marker _j�_ is said to be grammaticalised from the verb _j�_, meaning 'to come' (193-196, 290). However, the same morpheme _j�_ turns out to be used for 'imperfective aspect in specific interrogatives' (292), and it is used as a 'pragmatical dependency marker' (186-190, 204), and 'temporal protasis in the imperfective may be coded simply by the deployment of the auxiliary _j�_ preceding the verb' (411). Then, a mysterious reference follows: 'recall that the auxiliary _j�_ marks events contemporaneous with certain other events' (411), but earlier on it is explained that 'the marker _j�_ codes the temporal dependency of an event on another event' (190) and somewhere else it is said that 'the auxiliary _j�_ codes an ongoing event' (171). It seems to be worth a paper in itself to bring together the multiple usages of this morpheme. And there seem to be very many of such multifunctional morphemes in Lele, with each function discussed in widely separate sections of the book.

    SOME NOTABLE FEATURES OF LELE AND OF THIS BOOK A typical example of Frajzyngier's chapter 22 on adjunct clauses is exemplary for the kind of detailed analyses found in the book. The subject of this short chapter (404-409; only 5 pages) is the interclausal use of the word _kolo_. Many a grammarian might be tempted to simply state that _kolo_ means 'because' and leave it at that; not so Frajzyngier. He distinguishes four different constructions that use this conjunction:

    - Real Purpose (405-406), marked by: _kolo_ + future tense e.g. 'the old hen went with her children to eat the corn' - Hypothetical Purpose (406-407), marked by: _kolo_ + _na_ + future tense e.g. 'I have shown you the work so that you can succeed' - Unrealized Purpose (406-407), marked by: _kolo_ + _na_ + imperative e.g. 'I have shown you the work so that you could succeed, but you did not' - Reason (408-409), marked by: _kolo_ + past tense e.g. 'I came because I heard that you were sick'

    It might be questioned whether the difference between the Real Purpose and Reason is not simply a compositional effect of combining _kolo_ with different tenses, just as in an English purpose clause like 'I'll be in time because I'll hurry up' versus a reason clause like 'I was in time because I hurried up.' The complementiser _na_ that is used in the other two constructions, is, among other things, a hypothetical marker (362, 394-397, cf. Frajzyngier, 1991: 234-236 on the same element in Mupun). Hypothetical plus future tense becomes, again rather straightforward compositionally, a Hypothetical Purpose, as in English 'I may be in time because I might hurry up.' The Unrealized Purpose, based on an imperative verb form, does not have a literal counterpart in English.

    A different notable subject is the recurring interest of Frajzyngier's in the explicit linguistic encoding of the domains of reality ('de re') and of speech ('de dicto', cf. Frajzyngier, 1991). In Lele, there are two different complementisers that encode this opposition: _na_ is used for subordination 'de dicto' (362-382) and _go_ for subordination 'de re' (383-398). The prototypical usage of the 'de dicto' complementiser _na_ is after verbs of saying (e.g. he said *that* ...); the prototypical usage of the 'de re' complementiser _go_ is after perceptual verbs (e.g. he saw *that* ...). Interestingly, with the verb _s�n_ 'to know' both complementisers can be used. The difference is one of evidentiality. When the 'de dicto' complementiser _na_ is used, 'hearsay knowledge of the proposition of the embedded clause is coded ' (386). When the 'de re' complementiser _go_ is used, 'the speaker has personal knowledge of the facts described in the embedded clause' (385).

    Both complementisers can be found in other, further grammaticalised functions. First, _na_ also marks hypothetical (see above). The complementiser _go_ is also used as a masculine or plural relative marker (435-442). Note that this usage of the 'de re' complementiser contradicts an earlier hypothesis from Frajzyngier (1991:237), which stated that relative clauses belong to the 'de dicto' domain. Finally, both morphemes can be used as a linker in noun-noun combinations (74-77). The 'de dicto' _na_ can only be used with indefinite head nouns. In contrast, the 'de re' _go_ 'indicates that the modified noun is specific with respect to the potential set of objects' (76). Probably, it is better here to use the term 'non-specific' instead of 'indefinite' (cf. Haspelmath, 1997: 37-47) , but that is a minor terminological quibble. My guess is that these usages belong to the following grammaticalisation paths:

    de dicto > hearsay > indefinite de re > personal knowledge > specific

    Another notable feature of Lele is that there are two different variants of the inclusive first person plural. The bare inclusive pronoun _ngg�_ is only used for dual inclusive, which boils down to the speech-act dyad of speaker and addressee. Such a pronoun is also called a 'minimal' inclusive (following Conklin, 1962: 135). The first person plural inclusive (or 'augmented' inclusive) in Lele 'is a special construction consisting of the first-person dual inclusive preceding the verb and the second-person plural _ng�_ following the verb' (100). This 'minimal-augmented' division of the inclusive is found repeatedly in languages in the elbow of Africa, yet it seems to have neither a clear areal nor a clear genetic distribution (Cysouw, 2001: 156, fn. 18). In a few places in the grammar, the inclusive plural is missing in the presentation of a pronominal paradigm. Only the inclusive dual is mentioned in these cases, without further explanation about the marking of the inclusive plural (64, 69, 133). Probably, the formation of the inclusive plural is just as described above. If so, it would have been better to repeat this every time, as not every reader will read such a reference grammar from front to back.

    TWO ISSUES FOR FURTHER INVESTIGATIONS Although this grammar describes many details of the structure of Lele, it is, of course, impossible to describe everything in such detail as practised by Frajzyngier. Two phenomena, which are only noted in passing by Frajzyngier, caught my eye.

    Predicative adjectives in Lele are sometimes lexicalised as verbs: 'color terms and some other property concepts have been lexicalized as verbs' (105). Unfortunately, Frajzyngier does not give a survey of all adjectival concepts that are treated on a par with verbs. Such a survey could be used to test the typological claim (Stassen, 1997) that there is a hierarchy of adjectival concepts determining which ones will be put together with verbs. The following adjectival predicates, which I have been able to collect from various places in the grammar , are treated as verbs. These fit in exactly with the verby end of Stassen's adjective hierarchy.

    - human propensity: to be slim, fat, pretty (106) - physical: to be sour (42), sweet, bitter (91) - colour terms: to be black, red, blue etc. (88-89, 105-106, see below) - dimension terms: to be too large or too small to pass (41) to be large, to be a lot (47)

    I have not been able to find many examples in the grammar of non-verbal adjectives. Those that I have found are used in a construction with the copula _ n�_, 'to do, make'. Fitting in with Stassen's adjectival hierarchy, value concepts use this nominal construction: to be bad, true, good, false (205-206). However, contra the adjective hierarchy, there is also a set of human propensity concepts that use this construction: to be tired, hungry, sick, ache (116). Note that these are concepts in which the subject experiences an unpleasant feeling. Also noticeable are the adjectives _g�my�_, 'to be tall' and _m�yo_, 'to be small/short' (205-206). When used with a human subject, these adjectives are treated on a par with verbs. With a non-human subject, they use the construction with the copula _n�_. The decisive factor here is the distinction human vs. non-human, which is also important in other parts of the grammar of Lele (55). Apparently, there are more factors, besides Stassen's hierarchy, that influence the coding of predicative adjectives (cf. Mithun, 1991).

    Diving further into the details of property concepts, Lele appears to have a very interesting set of basic colour terms. Frajzyngier does not present all details, but the rough description of the meaning of the colour terms indicates an unusual division of the focal colours. The first two colour terms are rather straightforward. The first, _w�l�_, is used for 'red, dark rusty, pink, light brown and clay' (106), corresponding roughly to the basic colour term RED. The second, _b��r�_, is used for white (88, 89), corresponding to the basic colour term LIGHT/WHITE. Note that yellow is not part of either of these terms; reference to yellow is made by the term _bole_. This colour term is used for the unusual combination of 'green, blue and light yellow' (88, 106), and roughly corresponds to the basic colour term YELLOW/GRUE. This is an unusual combination cross-linguistically, although not completely unheard of. Foley (1997: 156) gives Trobriand, Karok and Gugu-Yalanji as other examples of this combination. The final colour term is _�nd�_. This term is used for black, light blue and dark blue (105), corresponding to the basic colour term DARK/BLACK, although the presence of non-focal blue does not really fit. As far as can be deduced from the scanty information on colour reference in the grammar, Lele appears to be a fine test-case for current colour-term universals.

    CONCLUSION Notwithstanding the small points of criticism that I have aired in this review, I am particularly enthusiastic about this grammar. The analyses of the various sentence structures is very precise and extensively documented. Small details of structure of the language are observed and discussed. All of my criticism boils down to wanting even more: more information, more cross-reference and a tighter organisation. Such formal deficiencies do not at all decrease the value of the information as presented in this book. Quite to the contrary, the wealth of information that is collected in this grammar simply calls for even more analysis and research. In particular, the investigation of the grammaticalisation paths of the various multifunctional morphemes can readily be approached from the abundant data that Frajzyngier shares with us.

    REFERENCES - Conklin, Harold C. (1962) 'Lexicographical Treatment of Folk Taxonomies'. In Problems in Lexicography, Fred W. Householder & Sol Saporta (eds.), pp. 119-142. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. - Cysouw, Michael (2001) The paradigmatic structure of person marking. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Nijmegen. - Foley, William A. (1997) Anthropological Linguistics: An Introduction. (Language in Society 24). Oxford: Blackwell. - Frajzyngier, Zygmunt (1989) A Grammar of Pero. (Sprache und Oralit�t in Afrika 4). Berlin: Dietrich Reimer. - Frajzyngier, Zygmunt (1991) 'The de dicto domain in language'. In Approaches to Grammaticalization, Vol. 1: Focus on theoretical and methodological issues, Elizabeth Closs Traugott & Bernd Heine (eds.), pp. 219-251 (Typological Studies in Language 19:1). Amsterdam: John Benjamins. - Frajzyngier, Zygmunt (1993) A Grammar of Mupun. (Sprache und Oralit�t in Afrika 14). Berlin: Dietrich Reimer. - Haspelmath, Martin (1997) Indefinite Pronouns. (Oxford Studies in Typology and Linguistic Theory). Oxford: Clarendon Press. - Mithun, Marianne (1991) 'Active/agentive case marking and its motivations'. Language 57: 510-546. - Stassen, Leon (1997) Intransitive Predication. (Oxford Studies in Typology and Linguistic Theory). Oxford: Clarendon Press.

    ACKNOWLEDGMENT I thank Laura Downing for corrections and useful comments on an earlier version of this review.

    ABOUT THE REVIEWER The reviewer's research deals mainly with world-wide cross-linguistic comparison of morphosyntactic characteristic. Currently, he is investigating pronominal clitics from a typological view at the Zentrum fuer Allgemeine Sprachwissenschaft (ZAS).