LINGUIST List 23.2290

Sat May 12 2012

Review: Ling Theories; Morphology; Syntax: Moyse-Faurie & Sabel (2011)

Editor for this issue: Monica Macaulay <>

Date: 12-May-2012
From: Kilu von Prince <>
Subject: Topics in Oceanic Morphosyntax
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EDITORS: Moyse-Faurie, Claire and Sabel, JoachimTITLE: Topics in Oceanic MorphosyntaxSERIES TITLE: Trends in Linguistics. Studies and Monographs [TiLSM] 239PUBLISHER: De Gruyter MoutonYEAR: 2011

Kilu von Prince, Center for General Linguistics (ZAS), Berlin


This volume brings together nine papers on a variety of aspects of Oceanicmorphosyntax, focusing on properties that have not been discussed widely before.The articles are organized into three parts according to the linguisticphenomena they focus on. They are titled ''Sentential syntax and sentence types'',''Nominal morphosyntax'' and ''Historical developments''.

In the introduction, Claire Moyse-Faurie and Joachim Sabel provide somebackground information about Oceanic languages and about the various discussionsthat form the backdrop to the individual papers in the volume. The second partof the introduction gives a brief abstract for each paper.

1. In his paper titled ''Deriving linear order in OV/VO languages: evidence fromOceanic languages'', Joachim Sabel reviews the generalization that in VOSlanguages, direct objects (DO) precede indirect objects (IO) in ditransitiveconstructions, and that manner adverbs precede frequency adverbs. He producescounterevidence from Kiribati and North West Fijian, which conform to the lattergeneralization about the order of adverbs, but contradict the generalizationabout argument order:

In Kiribati, the receiver of a verb of transmission such as ''give'' can either beintroduced by a prepositional phrase, in which case its position is free; or theverb hosts an applicative suffix, in which case the receiver noun phrase has tofollow the verb directly, thus resulting in the order IO > DO.

In North-West Fijian, both orders are possible in a double-object constructionand Sabel determines that the IO > DO order is less marked because it isacceptable both when the direct object is questioned and when the indirectobject is questioned. By contrast, DO > IO order is only felicitous when thedirect object is questioned.

2. Diane Massam, Donna Starks and Ofania Ikiua evaluate two recorded andtranscribed interviews, totaling between two and three hours of recordings, aswell as the written questionnaire on which the interviews were based in order togain a fuller understanding of polarity questions and answers in Niuean. Inparticular, they focus on the three particles which are the main means to markpolarity questions in Niuean and discuss to what extent previous descriptions ofthe language are compatible with their findings.

3. Eric Potsdam and Maria Polinsky start out with the observation thatPolynesian languages generally conform to the typological generalization thatverb-initial languages tend to put wh-elements first in questions. However, theauthors observe that, judging from English and related languages, a wh-initialsentence can correspond to any of at least three different syntactic structures:the wh-element can be left-dislocated, or it can be part of either apseudo-cleft or of a cleft structure. They go on to define a list of features todistinguish between these three structures and investigate how they apply towh-questions in different Polynesian languages. Their findings indicate thatwh-initial structures differ across Polynesian languages: in most of thelanguages investigated, wh-questions closely resemble cleft- or pseudo-cleftstructures, even though they do not match the defining criteria completely. Bycontrast, the data from Rapanui suggest the use of dislocation.

4. Claire Moyse-Faurie explores the role of nominalizations in exclamatives inPolynesian, Kanak and other Austronesian languages. The author starts out with abrief discussion of the wide range of functions of nominalized phrases inOceanic (mostly Polynesian) languages, followed by a definition and a briefcross-linguistic characterization of exclamatives. She then gives a detailedoverview of the different types of exclamatives that can be formed withnominalized structures across these Austronesian languages and points outsystematic structural and semantic correspondences.

5. In her paper about DP-internal structure in the Unua noun phrase, ElizabethPearce discusses data from Unua in relation to the typological generalizationthat in languages in which the noun phrase precedes its modifiers, numerals tendto precede demonstratives within the noun phrase (e.g. Greenberg 1966, Cinque2009). In Unua, numerals higher than two do precede demonstratives as expected,but with the numerals one and two, the situation is more involved: The unmarkedway to express a notion like ''these two dogs'' is a sequence of [NounDemonstrative Dual-pronoun], such that the number information follows thedemonstrative.

6. Anna Margetts explores noun incorporation in Saliba. She designs an array oftests to determine that truly incorporated nouns form a morphological unit withthe incorporating verb. She then discusses how they can be differentiated fromsimilar structures that do not involve incorporation; how V-N incorporationsdiffer from N-V incorporations; and how some intransitive verbs, which sheargues are semantically transitive, can also incorporate nouns.

7. In her contribution to the volume, Isabelle Bril gives a detailed typologicaloverview of the different noun-phrase conjunction strategies in more than twodozen Austronesian, mostly Oceanic, languages. She identifies the mainparameters along which conjunction structures differ within and acrosslanguages, such as 1) whether a corresponding pronoun includes both referents ofthe conjunction; 2) if so, whether both referents are expressed symmetrically orone is subsumed under the pronominal reference; and 3) whether there is anexplicit conjunctive marker or not.

In addition, Bril discusses a variety of related questions, for example thecomparative diachronic origins of comitative markers, differences betweenlanguages in the function of a cognate comitative marker and, when languageshave more than one conjunction strategy, which factors determine the choice ofone strategy over others.

8. Yuko Otsuka reviews the classification of Eastern Polynesian languages asaccusative, and of other Polynesian languages as ergative. She argues that abetter way to account for the different argument structures of the two languagegroups is that in Eastern Polynesian languages, all dyadic verbs can occur in amiddle construction, while in the other Polynesian languages, the middleconstruction is only available for a lexically specified subgroups of verbs. Shethereby supports the claim by Clark (e.g. 1973) that Proto-Polynesian wasergative. Evidence for her argument comes from correspondences betweentransitive structures in Eastern Polynesian and middle constructions in otherPolynesian languages, as well as between passive constructions in EasternPolynesian and ergative structures in non-Eastern Polynesian; and from Rapanuiand Pukapukan, which apparently show a transitional stage from one system to theother.

9. Jacques Vernaudon traces the development of the noun ''mea'' in Tahitian to itscontemporary function as an aspect marker. He shows how its different synchronicfunctions as a noun, as an attributive marker and as a stative marker suggest adiachronic process of grammaticalization involving both phonemic attrition andsemantic bleaching.


This volume is of interest to any linguist working on Oceanic languages, generaltypology, and various aspects of sentential and nominal morphosyntax. It is asignificant contribution to the field, mainly because of the rich original data,innovative methodologies and useful comparative overviews the different articlesprovide.

While the editors have tried to create coherence by establishing links betweenthe morphosyntactic phenomena discussed in the different papers, I found thetopics quite heterogeneous, but found more coherence in the theoreticalambitions and methodological challenges the authors shared.

All of the contributions stress the relevance of language-specific findings forwider typological questions and put varying degrees of effort into discussinghow their results affect our understanding of linguistic variation. At the sametime, all authors were confronted with the challenge of testing theories andgeneralizations in languages for which they have only limited synchronic anddiachronic information, and which sometimes differ quite dramatically from thelanguages on whose basis their hypotheses were developed.

These methodological issues, which are of course not unique to Oceaniclanguages, were by and large addressed with great transparency in this volume.In one of the most enlightening articles of the collection, Potsdam and Polinskytake an observation informed by formal analysis to carry out a more fine-grainedinvestigation of Polynesian question syntax than has been done before. Theirfindings in turn show that, while their original hypotheses motivate a morefine-grained differentiation between the languages, they cannot accountconclusively for the full range of morphosyntactic properties they observe,which in turn opens up new theoretical questions.

While not all articles in the volume reach the same degree of accomplishment,they collectively have the potential to inform the wider discussion about therelation between typological and language-specific observations, and betweentheoretical considerations and empirical methods, beyond the specificities oftheir respective findings.

On a note to the editors, the book would have benefitted from more carefulproof-reading and copy-editing as witnessed by a number of misspellings,misalignments in glossed examples, wrong references and some, if minor,inconsistencies in typographic conventions.


Cinque, Guglielmo. 2009. The fundamental left-right asymmetry of naturallanguages. Sergio Scalise, Elisabetta Magni and Antonietta Bisetto (eds.):Universals of language today, pp. 165-184. Dordrecht: Springer.

Clark, Ross. 1973. Transitivity and case in Eastern Oceanic languages. OceanicLinguistics 12:559-605. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press.

Greenberg, Joseph H. 1966. Some universals of grammar with particular referenceto the order of meaningful elements. Joseph H. Greenberg (ed.): Universals ofLanguage, 2nd edition, pp. 73-113. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.


Kilu von Prince is currently working on the documentation of the Oceanic languages Daakaka and Dalkalaen (Vanuatu). The primary subject of her linguistic passion is the range of variation between languages, which she prefers to approach from a formal semantic perspective.

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