This book "asserts that the origin and spread of languages must be examined primarily through the time-tested techniques of linguistic analysis, rather than those of evolutionary biology" and "defends traditional practices in historical linguistics while remaining open to new techniques, including computational methods" and "will appeal to readers interested in world history and world geography."
Date: Tue, 24 Jun 2003 14:28:45 -0700 From: Vajda Subject: A Grammar of Kham
Watters, David E. (2002) A Grammar of Kham. Cambridge University Press, 500pp, hardback ISBN 0-521-81245-3 $90.00, Cambridge Grammatical Descriptions.
Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/13/13-165.html
Edward J. Vajda, Western Washington University, Bellingham, WA
Description of the book:
This book provides a comprehensive description of Kham, a Tibeto-Burman language spoken in an isolated area of West-Central Nepal. Kham has never been documented previously in any great detail. In fact, until the early 1960's the area of Nepal where Kham is spoken was mistakenly believed to contain a dialect of Nepali rather than a Tibeto-Burman language of any kind. The language is divided into several dialects or closely related language forms, some having only limited mutual intelligibility. The total number of speakers for all Kham language forms is estimated at about 50,000. Watters (henceforward W) describes the discovery of Kham as "one of the remarkable finds in Tibeto-Burman linguistics this century (xvii). Because Kham data have never before been brought to bear to any serious extent in discussions of areal and genetic linguistics, this book is also noteworthy for the contribution it makes to historical linguistics.
A chapter by chapter run-down of the book's contents is as follows.
Chapter 1, entitled 'The people and their language', provides the basic ethnographic and historical background, with maps showing the location of Kham dialects. There is also a brief typological description of points to be fleshed out in the subsequent chapters. W discusses the "Siberian" or "Inner Asian" flavor of traditional Kham shamanism to suggest that the original Kham speakers came from the north. This chapter also introduces W's revised conception of the genetic classification of Tibeto-Burman languages, which places a Khamish sister branch alongside Kirantish. Kirantish and Khamish, in turn, form the Sub-Himalayish sister node alongside Trans-Himalayish (which contains Tibetan proper) under the Tibetic node of the family.
Chapter 2 discusses the segmental phonology, with preliminary mention of certain prosodic categories. Individual sections deal with the consonantal and vowel inventories, and include accompanying explanations of allophonic variation. W posits 9 vowel phonemes, each of which is additionally contrastive for length. The 22 consonant phonemes are restricted to only three points of articulation - bilabial, alveolar and velar. Aspiration is phonemic in obstruents. This chapter also describes the basic syllable structure and tone-related phenomena, treating voice register (modal vs. lax phonation) as a part of the tonal system (discussed further in the next chapter). Syllables may consist of the following components: (C) (G) V (X), where X denotes an optional coda, C an optional consonant, and G an optional glide.
Chapter 3, 'Tonology', asserts that tone in Kham is monosyllabic rather than word- or root-based, as is more common across Tibeto-Burman. Tone involves both melody (high vs. low) and phonation type (modal vs. lax), resulting in a four-way tonemic contrast. W stresses that the features of melody and phonation type are independent parameters (37), though they are linked together in the production of Kham prosodemes. Complex rules of tonal sandhi often override the inherent tones of adjacent syllables, especially in suffixes. W's orthography generally does not mark melody, while a post-vocalic /h/ indicates lax phonation.
The next several chapters treat individual parts of speech from a morphological perspective: nouns (ch. 4), verbs (ch. 5), modifiers and adjectivals (ch. 6), locatives, dimensionals and temporal adverbs (ch. 7), adverbs and adverbials (ch. 8). Finally, chapter 9 covers minor word classes such as pronouns, demonstratives, question words, quantifiers, particles and clitics. W uses the term 'adjectivals' in chapter 5 because there is no clear-cut grammatical class of adjectives in Kham. The discussion of locatives in chapter 7 also covers the functions of relator nouns. All of these chapters are additionally interesting because of the concomitant attention W pays to historical processes of grammaticalization.
Chapter 10 moves the description beyond the morphology of individual word classes to the level of clausal structure. Based on his description of nouns given in chapter 4, W discusses the construction of noun phrases, the process of nominalization, and the morphosyntax of relative clauses. There is also considerable coverage of derivational morphology here, since Kham nominalizations can come from nearly every other major word class.
Chapter 11 is titled 'Simple clauses, transitivity and voice'. Here W discusses basic constituent order in simple clauses. Kham, following the Tibeto-Burman norm, is an AOV, SV language (214). This chapter analyzes argument structure and its influence on syntactic constituency. There are copious examples of transitive, ditransitive, and intransitive sentences, including sentences with positive or negative copula plus predicate nominal. Certain verbs in Kham require dative experiencer subjects (224-5). W argues that the distinction between transitive and intransitive verbs in Kham largely mirrors the semantic notion of direct vs. indirect causation (255).
Chapter 12 moves on to describe the key grammatical functions of the verbal predicate, namely tense, aspect, and modality. W focuses on how these categories overlap in meaning. Example sentences illustrate the rich interaction of Aktionsart categories with tense distinctions.
Chapter 13 is entitled 'The modality of certainty, obligation, unexpected information'. Here W explains the Kham system of evidentiality and its interaction with deontic expressions. He also covers mirative forms, which are used to convey newly discovered information (288-96); as well as of reportative forms, which convey hearsay information. Mirative forms do not comment on the source of the information (which may be hearsay or represent an event witnessed by the narrator), but merely underscore that the given information is new or even unexpected for the narration.
Chapter 14, 'Non-declarative speech acts', covers the expression of direct and indirect questions, rhetorical questions, and various kinds of imperatives. As in other chapters, the discussion is amply illustrated by example sentences with clear morpheme glossing. There are also both literal and idiomatic English translations to most examples. The literal translations are quite valuable in helping better to convey the grammatical 'flavor' of the Kham constructions.
Chapter 15 moves away from the simple sentence to discuss interclausal relations and complex sentence structure. The sentences in this chapter are syntactically complex in that they require at least two verbs. Types of clauses covered include adverbial clauses of various sorts. There are also sections on clause chaining and switch reference (322-30), complement structures (331-45), and coordinate structures (345-9). The discussion of complement structures includes various types of imbedding associated with modal verbs.
Chapter 16, titled 'Nominalized verb forms in discourse', opens onto one of the interesting structural hallmarks of the Kham language group: the morphological ability to nominalize entire verbal predicates. W concludes that the nominalized forms are used to mark material that is temporally disjunct from that of the surrounding context. Such forms contrast in discourse with the non-nominalized forms, which are encountered more frequently overall and are used to convey background information (369).
Chapter 17, 'The Kham verb in historical perspective' returns to the issue of Kham's genetic position within the classification of Tibeto-Burman. W argues that Kham person and number agreement patterns are an archaic retention from Proto-Tibeto-Burman (371). Here W delves into both intra-Khamic comparisons as well as cross-Tibeto-Burman comparisons involving verb agreement morphology to fortify his argument.
Chapter 18 includes three Kham texts with morpheme glosses and interlinear translation: 'Tipalkya kills a leopard', 'Jaman and the witches', and 'Mana and the leopard'. As with most of the other Kham language data provided in this book, these texts are published here for the first time.
Chapter 19 is an English/Kham glossary containing over 400 basic vocabulary items. Each is provided by Proto-Kham and Proto-Tibeto-Burman reconstructions where possible.
The book ends with a lengthy bibliography and a general index.
Kham has an unusual structure, containing a number of characteristics that are of immediate relevance to current work on linguistic theory, including split ergativity and the system of demonstrative pronouns. The language's verb morphology, in particular, holds out the promise of leading to a clearer understanding of the genetic history of the entire Tibeto-Burman family. W has performed extensive fieldwork of several dialects of Kham and includes copious examples from multiple dialects throughout his discussion of various grammatical structures.
Besides the inclusion of rich dialectal contrasts, this book contains an unexpectedly rich investigation of diachronic problems that impinge on our understanding of the entire Tibeto-Burman language group. I had expected to find a detailed synchronic documentation of the language, which indeed is provided. But I was surprised by the unexpected added bonus of so many innovative interpretations of diachronic issues.
Because Kham was discovered and documented only during the last 40 years, most of the data, like W's analysis itself, is completely new to linguistics literature. Most of the bibliographic references, for instance, do not refer to earlier publications dealing with Kham, but rather are included to support W's broad use of typological comparisons in his analysis of Kham language structure. The basic documentation of language facts is itself excellent and very detailed. This is a credit both to W and to the series editors, R.M.W. Dixon and Keren Rice, who insist both on a high standard of scholarship as well as on stylistic and organizational clarity. This book succeeds admirably on both scores, and will doubtless prove extremely valuable to future linguists as a source of example material from this previously underdescribed language.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER Edward J. Vajda is a professor of Linguistics, Russian Language, and Eurasian Studies at Western Washington University. He is an editor of the journal Word. His research interests include minority languages of the former Soviet Union. For the past several years he has been intensively involved in linguistic research on the structure of Ket, a language isolate spoken by a few hundred people in Central Siberia near the Yenisei River.