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Review of  Topics in Oceanic Morphosyntax

Reviewer: Kilu von Prince
Book Title: Topics in Oceanic Morphosyntax
Book Author: Claire Moyse-Faurie Joachim Sabel
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Linguistic Theories
Language Family(ies): Oceanic
Issue Number: 23.2290

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EDITORS: Moyse-Faurie, Claire and Sabel, Joachim
TITLE: Topics in Oceanic Morphosyntax
SERIES TITLE: Trends in Linguistics. Studies and Monographs [TiLSM] 239
PUBLISHER: De Gruyter Mouton
YEAR: 2011

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


This volume brings together nine papers on a variety of aspects of Oceanic
morphosyntax, focusing on properties that have not been discussed widely before.
The articles are organized into three parts according to the linguistic
phenomena 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 some
background information about Oceanic languages and about the various discussions
that form the backdrop to the individual papers in the volume. The second part
of the introduction gives a brief abstract for each paper.

1. In his paper titled ''Deriving linear order in OV/VO languages: evidence from
Oceanic languages'', Joachim Sabel reviews the generalization that in VOS
languages, direct objects (DO) precede indirect objects (IO) in ditransitive
constructions, and that manner adverbs precede frequency adverbs. He produces
counterevidence from Kiribati and North West Fijian, which conform to the latter
generalization about the order of adverbs, but contradict the generalization
about argument order:

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

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

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

3. Eric Potsdam and Maria Polinsky start out with the observation that
Polynesian languages generally conform to the typological generalization that
verb-initial languages tend to put wh-elements first in questions. However, the
authors observe that, judging from English and related languages, a wh-initial
sentence 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 a
pseudo-cleft or of a cleft structure. They go on to define a list of features to
distinguish between these three structures and investigate how they apply to
wh-questions in different Polynesian languages. Their findings indicate that
wh-initial structures differ across Polynesian languages: in most of the
languages investigated, wh-questions closely resemble cleft- or pseudo-cleft
structures, even though they do not match the defining criteria completely. By
contrast, the data from Rapanui suggest the use of dislocation.

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

5. In her paper about DP-internal structure in the Unua noun phrase, Elizabeth
Pearce discusses data from Unua in relation to the typological generalization
that in languages in which the noun phrase precedes its modifiers, numerals tend
to precede demonstratives within the noun phrase (e.g. Greenberg 1966, Cinque
2009). In Unua, numerals higher than two do precede demonstratives as expected,
but with the numerals one and two, the situation is more involved: The unmarked
way to express a notion like ''these two dogs'' is a sequence of [Noun
Demonstrative Dual-pronoun], such that the number information follows the

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

7. In her contribution to the volume, Isabelle Bril gives a detailed typological
overview of the different noun-phrase conjunction strategies in more than two
dozen Austronesian, mostly Oceanic, languages. She identifies the main
parameters along which conjunction structures differ within and across
languages, such as 1) whether a corresponding pronoun includes both referents of
the conjunction; 2) if so, whether both referents are expressed symmetrically or
one is subsumed under the pronominal reference; and 3) whether there is an
explicit conjunctive marker or not.

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

8. Yuko Otsuka reviews the classification of Eastern Polynesian languages as
accusative, and of other Polynesian languages as ergative. She argues that a
better way to account for the different argument structures of the two language
groups is that in Eastern Polynesian languages, all dyadic verbs can occur in a
middle construction, while in the other Polynesian languages, the middle
construction is only available for a lexically specified subgroups of verbs. She
thereby supports the claim by Clark (e.g. 1973) that Proto-Polynesian was
ergative. Evidence for her argument comes from correspondences between
transitive structures in Eastern Polynesian and middle constructions in other
Polynesian languages, as well as between passive constructions in Eastern
Polynesian and ergative structures in non-Eastern Polynesian; and from Rapanui
and Pukapukan, which apparently show a transitional stage from one system to the

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


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

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

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

These methodological issues, which are of course not unique to Oceanic
languages, were by and large addressed with great transparency in this volume.
In one of the most enlightening articles of the collection, Potsdam and Polinsky
take an observation informed by formal analysis to carry out a more fine-grained
investigation of Polynesian question syntax than has been done before. Their
findings in turn show that, while their original hypotheses motivate a more
fine-grained differentiation between the languages, they cannot account
conclusively 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 the
relation between typological and language-specific observations, and between
theoretical considerations and empirical methods, beyond the specificities of
their respective findings.

On a note to the editors, the book would have benefitted from more careful
proof-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 natural
languages. 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. Oceanic
Linguistics 12:559-605. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press.

Greenberg, Joseph H. 1966. Some universals of grammar with particular reference
to the order of meaningful elements. Joseph H. Greenberg (ed.): Universals of
Language, 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.