Publishing Partner: Cambridge University Press CUP Extra Publisher Login

New from Cambridge University Press!


Revitalizing Endangered Languages

Edited by Justyna Olko & Julia Sallabank

Revitalizing Endangered Languages "This guidebook provides ideas and strategies, as well as some background, to help with the effective revitalization of endangered languages. It covers a broad scope of themes including effective planning, benefits, wellbeing, economic aspects, attitudes and ideologies."

New from Wiley!


We Have a New Site!

With the help of your donations we have been making good progress on designing and launching our new website! Check it out at!
***We are still in our beta stages for the new site--if you have any feedback, be sure to let us know at***

Review of  A Grammar of Lele

Reviewer: Michael Cysouw
Book Title: A Grammar of Lele
Book Author: Zygmunt Frajzyngier
Publisher: CSLI Publications
Linguistic Field(s): Language Documentation
Subject Language(s): Lele
Issue Number: 12.3099

Discuss this Review
Help on Posting

Frajzyngier, Zygmunt (2001) A Grammar of Lele. CSLI Publications,
xviii+493pp, paperback ISBN 1-57586-257-3, Stanford Monographs in
African Languages.

Michael Cysouw, Zentrum f�r Allgemeine Sprachwissenschaft, Berlin

This grammar of Lele (a Chadic language spoken in Chad) is the
third of a series of extensive grammars of Chadic languages written
by Frajzyngier (cf. 1989; 1993). They can all three be characterised
as very detailed descriptions of hitherto undescribed languages. The
grammar of Lele even surpasses the standards of Frajzyngier's
previous grammars. Many fine details of the language are described in
extenso, illustrated by numerous examples. The tour-de-force of
compiling such a grammar from scratch cannot be underestimated.
There are so many different themes discussed in the grammar that I
have to make a selection for this review. After presenting a synopsis
of this book, I will only discuss a few, rather randomly chosen,
aspects of the grammar of Lele as described by Frajzyngier.

The grammar consists of 28 chapters, some rather short. No
attempt is made to group this large number of chapters into a
higher-order structure. This is particularly unfortunate because the
order of the chapters (after the first few) makes at times a rather
haphazard impression. There is also no subject index, which makes it
even more important for such a reference work to be clearly
structured. Below I propose a higher-order structure for the grammar
along traditional lines. A nice side-effect of this organisation is
that all parts are roughly of equal length (40-60 pages), except for
the part 'Argument structure', which is twice as long as the others.

- Introduction:
Ch. 1: Introduction.
- Phonology:
Ch. 2: Phonology.
- Noun Phrase structure:
Ch. 3: The Structure of the Noun Phrase.
- Verb Phrase structure:
Ch. 6: Tenses;
Ch. 7: Aspect and Pragmatically Dependent Clauses;
Ch. 8: Coding the Deixis of an Event;
Ch. 12: Modality.
- Argument structure:
Ch. 4: Coding Arguments;
Ch. 5: Adjuncts;
Ch. 11: Reference System.
- Basic clause structure:
Ch. 9: Equational Clauses;
Ch. 10: Possessive, Locative and Existential Clauses;
Ch. 13: Interrogative Clauses;
Ch. 14: Negation;
Ch. 25: Comparative Constructions.
- Subordination:
Ch. 19: Complementation;
Ch. 20: Complementation through the Referential Marker;
Ch. 21: Complementation through Nominalization;
Ch. 26: Relative Clauses.
- Clause combining:
Ch. 18: Paratactic and Conjoined Clauses;
Ch. 22: Adjunct Clauses,
Ch. 23: Temporal Sentences;
Ch. 24: Conditional Sentences.
- Information structure:
Ch. 15: Focus Construction;
Ch. 16: Topicalization;
Ch. 17: Backgrounding;
Ch. 27: Elements of Discourse Structure in Lele.
- Texts:
Ch. 28: A Sample of Lele Texts.

The grammar is a goldmine of example sentences. Every statement
about the structure of the language is illustrated with at least one
sentence, but often more than one, that shows the particular
structure under discussion. All of the very many example sentences in
the grammar are glossed exhaustively. The thirty pages of complete
texts - also fully glossed - at the end of the book are another
indication of the wealth of data that is collected in the almost 500

A major omission of the book is the absence of any indices. A
subject index might have been practical, but is not really necessary.
In contrast, an index of all functional morphemes that are discussed
in the book would have been a major addition to the grammar. The
point is that many grammaticalised elements in Lele have various
grammatical functions - discussed in various places throughout the
grammar. For a reader that is not intimately acquainted with the
language, such multi-functional morphemes are difficult to track
down. Yet, from the perspective of grammaticalisation it would be
very interesting to have a survey of the functional diversity covered
by one and the same morpheme. An index would be of great help here.

For example, the ventive marker _j�_ is said to be
grammaticalised from the verb _j�_, meaning 'to come' (193-196, 290).
However, the same morpheme _j�_ turns out to be used for
'imperfective aspect in specific interrogatives' (292), and it is
used as a 'pragmatical dependency marker' (186-190, 204), and
'temporal protasis in the imperfective may be coded simply by the
deployment of the auxiliary _j�_ preceding the verb' (411). Then, a
mysterious reference follows: 'recall that the auxiliary _j�_ marks
events contemporaneous with certain other events' (411), but earlier
on it is explained that 'the marker _j�_ codes the temporal
dependency of an event on another event' (190) and somewhere else it
is said that 'the auxiliary _j�_ codes an ongoing event' (171). It
seems to be worth a paper in itself to bring together the multiple
usages of this morpheme. And there seem to be very many of such
multifunctional morphemes in Lele, with each function discussed in
widely separate sections of the book.

A typical example of Frajzyngier's chapter 22 on
adjunct clauses is exemplary for the kind of detailed analyses found
in the book. The subject of this short chapter (404-409; only 5
pages) is the interclausal use of the word _kolo_. Many a grammarian
might be tempted to simply state that _kolo_ means 'because' and
leave it at that; not so Frajzyngier. He distinguishes four different
constructions that use this conjunction:

- Real Purpose (405-406),
marked by: _kolo_ + future tense
e.g. 'the old hen went with her children to eat the corn'
- Hypothetical Purpose (406-407),
marked by: _kolo_ + _na_ + future tense
e.g. 'I have shown you the work so that you can succeed'
- Unrealized Purpose (406-407),
marked by: _kolo_ + _na_ + imperative
e.g. 'I have shown you the work so that you could succeed, but you
did not'
- Reason (408-409),
marked by: _kolo_ + past tense
e.g. 'I came because I heard that you were sick'

It might be questioned whether the difference between the Real
Purpose and Reason is not simply a compositional effect of combining
_kolo_ with different tenses, just as in an English purpose clause
like 'I'll be in time because I'll hurry up' versus a reason clause
like 'I was in time because I hurried up.' The complementiser _na_
that is used in the other two constructions, is, among other things,
a hypothetical marker (362, 394-397, cf. Frajzyngier, 1991: 234-236
on the same element in Mupun). Hypothetical plus future tense
becomes, again rather straightforward compositionally, a Hypothetical
Purpose, as in English 'I may be in time because I might hurry up.'
The Unrealized Purpose, based on an imperative verb form, does not
have a literal counterpart in English.

A different notable subject is the recurring interest of
Frajzyngier's in the explicit linguistic encoding of the domains of
reality ('de re') and of speech ('de dicto', cf. Frajzyngier, 1991).
In Lele, there are two different complementisers that encode this
opposition: _na_ is used for subordination 'de dicto' (362-382) and
_go_ for subordination 'de re' (383-398). The prototypical usage of
the 'de dicto' complementiser _na_ is after verbs of saying (e.g. he
said *that* ...); the prototypical usage of the 'de re' complementiser
_go_ is after perceptual verbs (e.g. he saw *that* ...). Interestingly,
with the verb _s�n_ 'to know' both complementisers can be used. The
difference is one of evidentiality. When the 'de dicto'
complementiser _na_ is used, 'hearsay knowledge of the proposition of
the embedded clause is coded ' (386). When the 'de re' complementiser
_go_ is used, 'the speaker has personal knowledge of the facts
described in the embedded clause' (385).

Both complementisers can be found in other, further
grammaticalised functions. First, _na_ also marks hypothetical (see
above). The complementiser _go_ is also used as a masculine or plural
relative marker (435-442). Note that this usage of the 'de re'
complementiser contradicts an earlier hypothesis from Frajzyngier
(1991:237), which stated that relative clauses belong to the 'de
dicto' domain. Finally, both morphemes can be used as a linker in
noun-noun combinations (74-77). The 'de dicto' _na_ can only be used
with indefinite head nouns. In contrast, the 'de re' _go_ 'indicates
that the modified noun is specific with respect to the potential set
of objects' (76). Probably, it is better here to use the term
'non-specific' instead of 'indefinite' (cf. Haspelmath, 1997: 37-47)
, but that is a minor terminological quibble. My guess is that these
usages belong to the following grammaticalisation paths:

de dicto > hearsay > indefinite
de re > personal knowledge > specific

Another notable feature of Lele is that there are two
different variants of the inclusive first person plural. The bare
inclusive pronoun _ngg�_ is only used for dual inclusive, which boils
down to the speech-act dyad of speaker and addressee. Such a pronoun
is also called a 'minimal' inclusive (following Conklin, 1962: 135).
The first person plural inclusive (or 'augmented' inclusive) in Lele
'is a special construction consisting of the first-person dual
inclusive preceding the verb and the second-person plural _ng�_
following the verb' (100). This 'minimal-augmented' division of the
inclusive is found repeatedly in languages in the elbow of Africa,
yet it seems to have neither a clear areal nor a clear genetic
distribution (Cysouw, 2001: 156, fn. 18). In a few places in the
grammar, the inclusive plural is missing in the presentation of a
pronominal paradigm. Only the inclusive dual is mentioned in these
cases, without further explanation about the marking of the inclusive
plural (64, 69, 133). Probably, the formation of the inclusive plural
is just as described above. If so, it would have been better to
repeat this every time, as not every reader will read such a
reference grammar from front to back.

Although this grammar describes many details of the structure of
Lele, it is, of course, impossible to describe everything in such
detail as practised by Frajzyngier. Two phenomena, which are only
noted in passing by Frajzyngier, caught my eye.

Predicative adjectives in Lele are sometimes lexicalised as
verbs: 'color terms and some other property concepts have been
lexicalized as verbs' (105). Unfortunately, Frajzyngier does not give
a survey of all adjectival concepts that are treated on a par with
verbs. Such a survey could be used to test the typological claim
(Stassen, 1997) that there is a hierarchy of adjectival concepts
determining which ones will be put together with verbs. The following
adjectival predicates, which I have been able to collect from various
places in the grammar , are treated as verbs. These fit in exactly
with the verby end of Stassen's adjective hierarchy.

- human propensity:
to be slim, fat, pretty (106)
- physical:
to be sour (42), sweet, bitter (91)
- colour terms:
to be black, red, blue etc. (88-89, 105-106, see below)
- dimension terms:
to be too large or too small to pass (41)
to be large, to be a lot (47)

I have not been able to find many examples in the grammar of
non-verbal adjectives. Those that I have found are used in a
construction with the copula _ n�_, 'to do, make'. Fitting in with
Stassen's adjectival hierarchy, value concepts use this nominal
construction: to be bad, true, good, false (205-206). However, contra
the adjective hierarchy, there is also a set of human propensity
concepts that use this construction: to be tired, hungry, sick, ache
(116). Note that these are concepts in which the subject experiences
an unpleasant feeling. Also noticeable are the adjectives _g�my�_,
'to be tall' and _m�yo_, 'to be small/short' (205-206). When used
with a human subject, these adjectives are treated on a par with
verbs. With a non-human subject, they use the construction with the
copula _n�_. The decisive factor here is the distinction human vs.
non-human, which is also important in other parts of the grammar of
Lele (55). Apparently, there are more factors, besides Stassen's
hierarchy, that influence the coding of predicative adjectives (cf.
Mithun, 1991).

Diving further into the details of property concepts, Lele
appears to have a very interesting set of basic colour terms.
Frajzyngier does not present all details, but the rough description
of the meaning of the colour terms indicates an unusual division of
the focal colours. The first two colour terms are rather
straightforward. The first, _w�l�_, is used for 'red, dark rusty,
pink, light brown and clay' (106), corresponding roughly to the basic
colour term RED. The second, _b��r�_, is used for white (88, 89),
corresponding to the basic colour term LIGHT/WHITE. Note that yellow
is not part of either of these terms; reference to yellow is made by
the term _bole_. This colour term is used for the unusual combination
of 'green, blue and light yellow' (88, 106), and roughly corresponds
to the basic colour term YELLOW/GRUE. This is an unusual combination
cross-linguistically, although not completely unheard of. Foley
(1997: 156) gives Trobriand, Karok and Gugu-Yalanji as other examples
of this combination. The final colour term is _�nd�_. This term is
used for black, light blue and dark blue (105), corresponding to the
basic colour term DARK/BLACK, although the presence of non-focal blue
does not really fit. As far as can be deduced from the scanty
information on colour reference in the grammar, Lele appears to be a
fine test-case for current colour-term universals.

Notwithstanding the small points of criticism that I have aired
in this review, I am particularly enthusiastic about this grammar.
The analyses of the various sentence structures is very precise and
extensively documented. Small details of structure of the language
are observed and discussed. All of my criticism boils down to wanting
even more: more information, more cross-reference and a tighter
organisation. Such formal deficiencies do not at all decrease the
value of the information as presented in this book. Quite to the
contrary, the wealth of information that is collected in this grammar
simply calls for even more analysis and research. In particular, the
investigation of the grammaticalisation paths of the various
multifunctional morphemes can readily be approached from the abundant
data that Frajzyngier shares with us.

- Conklin, Harold C. (1962) 'Lexicographical Treatment of Folk
Taxonomies'. In Problems in Lexicography, Fred W. Householder & Sol
Saporta (eds.), pp. 119-142. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
- Cysouw, Michael (2001) The paradigmatic structure of person
marking. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Nijmegen.
- Foley, William A. (1997) Anthropological Linguistics: An
Introduction. (Language in Society 24). Oxford: Blackwell.
- Frajzyngier, Zygmunt (1989) A Grammar of Pero. (Sprache und
Oralit�t in Afrika 4). Berlin: Dietrich Reimer.
- Frajzyngier, Zygmunt (1991) 'The de dicto domain in language'. In
Approaches to Grammaticalization, Vol. 1: Focus on theoretical and
methodological issues, Elizabeth Closs Traugott & Bernd Heine (eds.),
pp. 219-251 (Typological Studies in Language 19:1). Amsterdam: John
- Frajzyngier, Zygmunt (1993) A Grammar of Mupun. (Sprache und
Oralit�t in Afrika 14). Berlin: Dietrich Reimer.
- Haspelmath, Martin (1997) Indefinite Pronouns. (Oxford Studies in
Typology and Linguistic Theory). Oxford: Clarendon Press.
- Mithun, Marianne (1991) 'Active/agentive case marking and its
motivations'. Language 57: 510-546.
- Stassen, Leon (1997) Intransitive Predication. (Oxford Studies in
Typology and Linguistic Theory). Oxford: Clarendon Press.

I thank Laura Downing for corrections and useful comments on an
earlier version of this review.

The reviewer's research deals mainly with world-wide
cross-linguistic comparison of morphosyntactic characteristic.
Currently, he is investigating pronominal clitics from a typological
view at the Zentrum fuer Allgemeine Sprachwissenschaft (ZAS).