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Review of  A Grammar of Tukang Besi

Reviewer: Marian Klamer
Book Title: A Grammar of Tukang Besi
Book Author: Mark Donohue
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Morphology
Subject Language(s): Tukang Besi South
Issue Number: 10.1439

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Mark Donohue, 1999, A Grammar of Tukang Besi [Mouton Grammar Library 20],
Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter, 576 p.

Reviewed by Marian Klamer, General Linguistics, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
and Leiden University, The Netherlands.

Tukang Besi is an Austronesian (Western Malayo-Polynesian) language, spoken
by approx. 80.000 speakers in Southeast Sulawesi, Indonesia. The language is
spoken on a small archipelago with the same name, located in the Banda and
Flores Sea and consisting of the four islands Wanci, Kaledupa, Tomea, and
Binongko. Tukang Besi is an exonym from Malay 'tukang besi' "blacksmith": the
wares of the blacksmiths of the poorest island of the four, Binongko, are
known as far afield as Ujung Pandang in South Sulawesi, and the blacksmiths
of Binongko are credited with secret powers that enables them to pull glowing
iron from the hearth without thongs, and to beat metal into machetes with
their hands if necessary.

"A Grammar of Tukang Besi" is the first comprehensive grammar of the
language. It is based on primary data gathered by the author in cooperation
with several native speakers during field work in the area. Apart from a
475-page description of the structural aspects of the language, the book also
contains 40 pages of glossed and translated texts, a word list of about 1000
items (Tukang Besi - English / English - Tukang Besi) and a small index.


Chapter 1 presents information on the setting and region of Tukang Besi, on
the language's dialects, the attitudes of its speakers, and the sources for
the study. The grammar is based on Donohue's own fieldwork, the majority of
which took place 'between 1992 and 1995', in 'the village of Patuno on the
north coast of Wanci, and also a fair deal of time around Kota Wanci on the
west coast.' The language helpers were from 'a wide cross-section of the
Tukang Besi speaking community'. I take this to imply that the grammar is
based on data that are not skewed towards the idiolect of one informant, and
that the dialect described is (one of the) Wanci dialect(s) (in chapter 2 it
is explicitly stated that it describes the phonology and morphophonology of
the Wanci dialect).

The structure of Tukang Besi is described working upwards from the segmental
to the sentential level in chapter 2 to 20. Rather than summing up the
content of these chapters, in what follows I will highlight some aspects of
TB that may be of interest to typologists and/or theoreticians.

The Tukang Besi (henceforth TB) consonant set includes two implosive stops
/b, d/, and a set of prenasalised segments, including voiced and unvoiced
stops /mp, mp, nt, nd, nk, ngg/, /ns/ and a loan affricate /ndz/. There are
several morpho-phonological processes involving nasals: -um- infixation to
realise irrealis mood; prefixation of hoN-, where the nasal substitutes the
root initial consonant, taking over its place features; and in root/foot
reduplication, an initial voiceless stop is prenasalised: notinti 'he is
running' > notinti-ntinti 'he's running around madly' .

The major constituents of a TB clause are the verb phrase and the case phrase
(an NP governed by a case marker). In a verbal clause, word order is
verb-initial. The subject is marked by a prefix on the verb, the object by a
verbal enclitic. Nominal constituents are optional if the referential
identity of the arguments they express has already been established. If a
clause contains NPs, the order is V O A, but this order is not fixed.

TB is a Philippine-type language like e.g. Tagalog, in the sense that it is
unlike languages with predominantly accusative or ergative syntax: each
clause must morphologically select one of the arguments of the transitive
verb as its pivot, and there is no unmarked choice. The selected argument is
assigned a specific case, regardless of whether it is in A, S, or O syntactic
role. In Philippine studies, this argument has traditionally been referred to
as the 'focus', 'subject' or 'topic'. As these terms carry other associations
as well, Donohue uses the term 'nominative' to refer to the case assigned to
it, which is expressed by the article na. The other core article te assigns
non-nominative case. Transitive verbs with subject and object markers assign
nominative case (na) to the O syntactic role and non-nominative case to A;
schematically: s-V-o [na O] [te A]. Intransitive verbs assign nominative case
to their single argument S: s-V [na S]. Interestingly, if a transitive verb
is not crossreferenced for its object, the case assignment is reversed: s-V
[te O] [na A]. Also, the word order is now rigidly [VO]A.

The author analyses this pattern as a Phillipine-type voice system, with a
restricted range of categories -- only two. In TB the diachronic shift
towards head-marking pronominal indexing has proceeded to quite an extent,
but at the same time the overt Phillipine-type case system has been
preserved, and its verbal cues reinterpreted as being those involving the
presence versus absence of the object agreement.

A TB verb phrase contains the verb and either a bound pronominal object or an
object case phrase (KP), but not both. The arguments that may be indexed on
underived verbs are limited to Agent, Dative, Instrument or Theme/Patients.
Verbal indexing is only available for so-called 'core arguments'. Core
arguments are obligatorily marked by the case-marking articles na
(nominative) or te (non-nominative), while oblique arguments may drop the
oblique article i. Only core arguments may launch floating quantifiers or
adverbs (chapters 7 and 20), may be relativised (chapter 15), and may be
marked on the verbs of subordinate clauses such as nominalisations (chapter
12) and relativisations.

Nominal constituents are discussed in chapter 5 (pronouns), 6
(demonstratives), 12 (noun phrases: core and oblique), 13 (possession and
possessive constructions), 15 (relative clauses), and 18 (conjoining). A TB
noun phrase is head initial. Pronominal possessor marking appears on the head
noun if the NP is nominative [Nom [[N-Poss] Adj]], while in non-nominative
NPs, the possessor is marked on the nominal modifier [non-Nom [[N Adj]
-Poss]]. An NP preceded by an article (which functions as the case marker) is
nested within a case phrase, KP. Both NPs and KPs may be prepositional

Tukang Besi has two major open word classes: nouns and verbs. Nouns
characteristically appear inside NPs, are preceded by an article, a
preposition or a numeral classifier. Verbs are the class of words that can be
prefixed for subject when used as the head of a main clause. Adjectives are a
subclass of the non-agentive intransitive verbs. The category of adverbs is
not discussed in the chapter on word classes, but from the information given
elsewhere in the book, it seems to be a separate category which shares some
properties with the verbal class.

In TB the same word form may be used, with no derivational morphology, in
both nominal and verbal frames. In fact, such 'pre-categorial' items
constitute the majority of the lexical items in the open word classes. This
phenomenon, which is very common in Austronesian languages, has important
implications for formal theories that take the lexical categories N and V as
fundamentally different. It also raises analytical questions, such as how to
account for the surface homophony between finite forms and nominalised forms
in (especially) the Eastern Austronesian languages.

In Tukang Besi there is much more verbal morphology than there is nominal
morphology. In the valency-increasing category there are three causative
prefixes and three applicative markers (chapters 9 and 10), and
valency-decrease is accomplished by three passive-like prefixes, two
reciprocal prefixes, and various other prefixes (chapter 11). Object
incorporation also features in the language as a valency decreasing device,
and two varieties of possessor ascension conspire to complicate the picture
of valency and grammatical relations (chapters 7 and 20). Serial verb
constructions (chapter 8) are used to express adverbial notions, as well as
aspect and modality.


This is an excellent grammar, but I do have a couple of comments.
One flaw of the book is that the fieldwork and the database on which it
is based have not been documented. Obviously, a grammar based on,
say, 3 months of fieldwork and a 3-hour spoken text corpus is much less
reliable than one based on 18 months of fieldwork and a corpus of 15 hours.
>From this grammar, it is not clear how much time the author spend in the
field 'between 1992 and 1995', where he spent it, with whom he worked, and
for how long. With respect to his data base, the author states that most
materials used in the grammar have been taken from recordings of traditional
stories, process descriptions, and recordings of conversations of various
speakers, but again the exact data are missing: how many hours of texts were
recorded and transcribed, and who were the speakers? Another flaw is that it
is not made explicit that Lexical Functional Grammar is used as the major
descriptive tool. Especially for readers that are not familiar with LFG it
would have been helpful if the book contained a brief introductory section,
explaining the major differences between generative and declarative phrase
structure (the latter of which is used in this grammar), and the formal
notations of e.g. argument structure and valency-changing morphology.

Nevertheless, A grammar of Tukang Besi is an exemplary reference grammar. The
author has a thorough knowledge of Tukang Besi, and shares this by coupling
acute analyses of the data with coherent presentations. The illustrative
material provided in the text is generally well-chosen: apart from clarifying
the analysis, in many cases it is sufficiently rich to leave the reader
something to discover on his/her own. I am confident that this grammar will
prove to be highly valuable in the testing of hypotheses of linguistic theory
on e.g. argument marking and valency-changing morphology, to the further
development of descriptive (Austronesian) linguistics, and to linguistic
typology in general.

Marian Klamer is a fellow of the Royal Dutch Academy of Arts and Sciences,
currently affiliated to the Departments of Linguistics of the Vrije
Universiteit in Amsterdam and Leiden University, in The Netherlands. She has
published various articles and a grammar of the Eastern Indonesian language
Kambera (1998, A grammar of Kambera, Mouton de Gruyter), as well as articles
on the related languages Leti, Buru, and Tukang Besi. Her research interest
is language contact and change in Eastern Indonesian languages, with
particular focus on the interface lexicon-morphosyntax.