LINGUIST List 19.1357

Tue Apr 22 2008

Review: Morphology: Kaye (2007)

Editor for this issue: Randall Eggert <>

        1.    Mary Paster, Morphologies of Asia and Africa

Message 1: Morphologies of Asia and Africa
Date: 22-Apr-2008
From: Mary Paster <>
Subject: Morphologies of Asia and Africa
E-mail this message to a friend

Announced at EDITOR: Kaye, Alan S.TITLE: Morphologies of Asia and AfricaPUBLISHER: EisenbraunsYEAR: 2007

Mary Paster, Department of Linguistics and Cognitive Science, Pomona College

SUMMARYThis book is an encyclopedic, two-volume reference comprising descriptions of awide range of Asian and African morphological systems, 46 in all. As describedin the Introduction by editor Alan Kaye (who tragically died of bone cancer inMay 2007, before the collection was published), the book aims to ''presentinteresting facts about the word-formation strategies of the language(s) underdiscussion in an informative and typologically relevant way.'' The selection oflanguages is meant to be both broad and deep, but not evenly distributed acrosslanguage families or geographic areas. For example, Kaye points out that thereis a particular emphasis on Semitic and Afroasiatic languages since these wereareas of his own interest. The depth in certain areas comes at the acknowledgedexpense of coverage of some more well-known languages; e.g., there is no essayon Chinese or Japanese.

The individual language entries are written by experts on each particularlanguage and, in many cases, people who are well-known experts on the relevantlanguage family as a whole. The entries vary in their style, range of coverage,and theoretical perspective, but all of them are descriptively oriented and havelarge amounts of data. Most of the essays state linguistic generalizations inpretheoretical terms, and most range from being almost completely non-formal tomentioning points of formal theoretical interest only in passing.

The essays are organized mainly according to their genetic affiliation. Volume 1deals with the Afroasiatic languages. Essays 1-10 cover the ancient Semiticlanguages, and essays 11-18 cover modern Semitic languages. Essay 19 is onBerber, essays 20-24 are on Cushitic languages, essays 25-28 are on Chadiclanguages, and essay 29 is on Omotic. In volume 2, essays 30-37 are onIndo-European languages. Essay 30 is on an Anatolian language (Hittite), essays31-32 are on Indo-Iranian, 33-34 cover ancient Iranian languages, 35-36 covermodern Iranian languages, and essay 37 is on Classical Armenian. Essay 38 is ona Nilo-Saharan language (Kanuri), 39 is on a Niger-Congo language (Swahili), and40 is on an Altaic language (Turkish). Essays 41-42 cover Caucasian languages,43 is on a Malayo-Polynesian language (Indonesian), and 44-46 cover languageisolates (Burushaski, Ket, and Sumerian).

EVALUATIONKaye's pointedly humorous introduction is a rallying cry for linguists who areinterested in morphology and wish to see it treated as a full-fledged componentof grammar worthy of study in its own right. It is also a passionate call toarms for linguists of the descriptive persuasion who agree with Kaye's view that''linguistics deals with languages and, in particular, should deal more withexotic tongues.'' These views are carried through consistently throughout thecollection, with each contributor giving a very detailed description using datathat in many cases have never been exposed to such a wide audience. Bello Bubaand Jonathan Owens' essay on Glavda describes a particularly interestinglanguage that was virtually undescribed before.

This is an inspiring set of volumes. The expertise represented in its pages isalmost overwhelming, as are the copious quantities of data in the essays. Itseems, therefore, that this work is an absolute success with respect to thegoals set forth by the editor. It is also quite an impressive testament to theeditor that such a who's-who of language experts contributed to the collection.

The papers are of consistently high quality in terms of their depth ofdescription, less so in their clarity. Some (e.g., Alan Kaye on Arabic, JeffreyHeath on Moroccan) are entertaining and even flowery in parts, while most arestraightforward and in some cases even somewhat like an outline in their style.One example is Wolf Leslau's essay on Amharic; in that case the sparse style isa good thing because there is such a wealth of data (much of it quite usefullyorganized into paradigms) that the paper takes up 51 pages even without a lot ofexposition.

Several of the authors helpfully attempt to contextualize the morphologicaldescriptions. Some do a particularly nice job of integrating the discussion ofmorphology with other areas of interest in the same language, particularlyphonology. For example, Robert Hoberman's essay on Maltese contains a luciddiscussion of a 'ghost consonant' that has played a major role in analyses ofMaltese phonology, and Grover Hudson's contribution on Highland East Cushiticlanguages discusses a fascinating process in Hadiyya taboo language thatreplaces a syllable and the onset of the following syllable of a word thatshares its first syllable with the name of a woman's father-in-law. As Hudsonpoints out, this replacement pattern is problematic for the notion that rules ofthis type must refer to some element of the prosodic hierarchy such as a mora,syllable, or foot.

Other authors' essays raise issues of historical and dialectological interest.For example, Gregory Anderson's contribution on Burushaski deals with threeseparate dialects and makes explicit comparisons among the three. And RussellSchuh's essay on Bade, for example, includes considerable discussion ofdevelopments in Western Bade compared with other Bade dialects and otherlanguages in the same subgroup of West Chadic. In essays such as these, thereader has a good point of reference for understanding what is of specialinterest in the language. All of the essays contain weighty descriptions andbountiful data, but some will be of more use than others for non-specialistreaders due to their varying efforts to situate the descriptions in some widercontext, whether theoretical or comparative.

Although there is much to appreciate in these volumes, it is also worth pointingout a couple of attributes of the collection that may be viewed as flaws by somereaders. One aspect of these volumes that may disappoint is the scant coverageof certain language families, most notably Niger-Congo. According to Ethnologue,the Niger-Congo language family has 1,514 languages in it, while Altaic has 66languages. Yet both families are represented by the same number of essays inthis collection (namely, one). And Afroasiatic has far fewer languages thanNiger-Congo (375, according to Ethnologue), but the entirety of volume 1 (29 ofthe 46 essays) is devoted to Afroasiatic. Kaye does predict in the Introductionthat ''[r]eviewers will inevitably point out that this language should have beenincluded or that one was superfluous,'' but even if one accepts that the mainfocus is on Afroasiatic with only a side helping of languages that are''culturally and geographically related'' to it, the minimal coverage ofNiger-Congo in the context of volume 2 is still disappointing (although EllenContini-Morava's essay on Swahili is excellent, and it is also likely to beamong the most interesting to those with interests in morphological theory sinceit gives a nice overview of the controversy over the formal analysis of theSwahili verb and how competing morphological models have proposed to model it).

A more significant issue is the heavy emphasis on description at the expense oftheoretical discussion. One of Kaye's stated goals, which this collection ismeant to contribute to, is a '''grand synthesis' of morphological theory andUniversal Grammar''. If such a synthesis is to be achieved, it seems that peopleworking on the descriptive side may need to reach a bit further towards thetheoretical side. In the Introduction, Kaye discusses various types ofmorphological models falling under the general frameworks known as''Item-and-Process'', ''Item-and-Arrangement'', and ''Word-and-Paradigm''. Yet theindividual contributions to the collection rarely make any mention of thesetypes of approaches or to which approach might work best for the language inquestion, and few explicitly state which type of model they are assuming (SharonRose's essay on Chaha is one notable exception). The vast majority of essays arepurely descriptive, making it difficult to relate the language data to problemsin morphological theory. I do not necessarily intend this as a criticism of thecontributors; in light of the almost uniform non-theoretical nature of thecontributions, this appears to have been a decision made by the editor andpassed along to the authors. But a reader interested in bridging the gap betweengood description and theoretical relevance is likely to find that thiscollection falls a bit short on the theory side.

Despite these shortcomings, the depth, breadth, and overall quality of thiscollection are outstanding. _Morphologies of Asia and Africa_ is an impressiveachievement and will serve as a valuable and authoritative reference on thelanguages it describes.

ABOUT THE REVIEWERMary Paster is an Assistant Professor of Linguistics and Cognitive Science atPomona College. Her research interests are in phonology and morphology,primarily in African languages, and her recent work has focused on tone,language description and documentation, and the phonology-morphology interface.