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Review of  Essai de description morphophonologique du Yisangu

Reviewer: Iris F. Levitis
Book Title: Essai de description morphophonologique du Yisangu
Book Author: Pierre Ondo-Mebiame
Publisher: Lincom GmbH
Linguistic Field(s): Language Documentation
Subject Language(s): Sangu
Issue Number: 19.2342

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AUTHOR: Pierre Ondo-Mebiame
TITLE: Essai de description morphophonologique du Yisangu
SUBTITLE: Langue bantu du Gabon
SERIES: LINCOM Studies in African Linguistics 49
YEAR: 2007

Iris Flannery, Department of Linguistics, UC, Davis

This monograph is a morphophonological description of the Yisangu language that
is intended to supplement the morphosyntactic description by Idiata (1998). The
purpose is a refining of previous understandings of Yisangu phonology and a
reevaluation of Idiata's data to delineate the rules which govern morphology and
phonology. The result is worth the notice of anyone who has an interest in Bantu
linguistics, typological linguistics, or morphophonology generally.

The book begins with a brief description of its purpose, the location of Yisangu
speakers, the classification of Yisangu and the methodology of the data
collection. Yisangu, also known as Isangu, Chango, Shango, Yisangou language, is
spoken by 20,911 Gabonese people (Gordon 2005). This volume seeks to lay out the
phonological and morphological units of the language. The author describes in a
paragraph that Yisangu is spoken in the interior of Gabon. Yisangu speakers are
inhabitants of the Iboundji area, Mimongo and Ngounie Provinces of Gabon (Gordon
2005). Yisangu has been classified as belonging to the Sira (B.40) group (Gordon
2005). The research is based on data gathered from three consultants between
December 1987 and January 14, 1988 in Bruxelles, Belgium and Libreville, Gabon.
The book has four sections: phonology, morphophonology, morphology, and a
summary conclusion.

The phonology section is divided into two parts: paradigmatic and syntagmatic
phonology. The paradigmatic phonology section contains an inventory of Yisangu
vowels and consonants. Yisangu has eight short, and seven long vowels,
twenty-five consonants, and five tones. Additionally, a phonetic description and
minimal pair examples are provided. The extensive (177) examples, are evidence
that these are the phonemes of Yisangu. Syntagmatic phonology describes the
syllable structure very briefly and provides examples of the six syllable
structures described.

The second section describes the morphophonology for Yisangu. This section
begins with the author's explanation that ''morphophonology is an important hinge
(charnière) between phonology and morphology'' (66). The author describes the
system which he has constructed to show how morphological, and tone rules apply
to given words. An example provided is that of |#mù+ànà#N| which becomes
[#mwâ:nà] after applying rules 31.1, and 60.2 (68). Rule 31.1 states that when a
vowel such as [i] or [u] comes into contact with a different vowel that both
will change so as to create a more homorganic cluster (78). Rule 60.2 states
that the two vowels, in this case [ù+à] meld and become [â:] (107). These rules,
numbering 30-61, and their description compose the remainder of this chapter.

The section on morphology is organized according to markers of class and
morphemes of tone. A chart is given showing the nominal, pronominal, and verbal
prefixes. A list of morphemes of tonality, which composes the second part of
this chapter, consists of the description of eighteen rules which change the
tone of morphemes. For example ''N''' indicates that a low tone on the nominal
prefix becomes a high tone for substantives of ''tonal type B and C'' (120). An
example given is |mì+rúmbà#N''| which becomes /mí+rúmbe/ [barrier] (135). These
morphotonemic rules provide a basis for understanding how tones and morphology
interact in Yisangu.

The conclusion consists of a summary of the phonetic, phonological,
morphophonological, and morphological features of Yisangu.

This book was written, as the author states, as an enlargement upon the volume
by Idiata on the morphosyntax of Yisangu (1998). This previous work devoted less
to the description of phonology than it did to syntax and morphology.
Additionally the issue of morphophonology was not addressed. Hence, the author
of the current book, states in the introduction that this book seeks to provide
a complementary account of the Yisangu language, focusing on the phonology and
morphology, and the space between the two, morphophonology.

The structure of this book is excellent for the purpose it was written for. The
three main sections: phonology, morphophonology, and morphology, parallel
Idiata's which has sections on phonology, syntax, and morphology (1998). What
sets this book apart is the assiduous detail which the author has brought to
bear on showing the phonetic, phonological, and morphological rules, and the
order in which they are applied. This process and the resulting lexemes, is
shown through 136 examples.

One issue concerning the book is that the data were gathered from only three
consultants. The principal consultant had not lived in the Masangu speaking
region since he was seven. Perhaps more explanation could be given concerning
how well the consultant was able to provide a representative sample of Yisangu.
Though the other two informants were natives of Masangu the reader is left
wishing for a larger pool of consultants, due to possible idiolectic variation.

Overall this book can be described as a careful exposition of the Yisangu
language. However, this is not a book that should be read in isolation. The
complementarity of this book with Idiata's is stated by the author and
reinforced by comparisons and contrasts drawn throughout the text between the
two analyses. The examples and minimal pairs provided will be extremely useful
to those interested in Yisangu, or Bantu languages in general. The explanation
of the rules governing phonology and morphology facilitates further study of the
relationship between the two areas of linguistics.

Gordon, R. G., Jr. (ed.). (2005). Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Fifteenth
edition. Dallas, Tex.: SIL International. Online version:

Idiata D.F. (1998). _Aperçu sur la morphosyntaxe de la langue isangu (bantou,
B42)_. Munich: Lincom Europa.

Iris Flannery is a former Peace Corps Volunteer (in Niger). She is a M.A.
student in Linguistics at UC Davis. Her research interests include West African
languages, Slavic languages, language planning, literacy, and second language