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  • Serial Verbs in Oceanic: A Descriptive Typology
  • Joel Bradshaw
Terry Crowley. 2002. Serial Verbs in Oceanic: A Descriptive Typology. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-824135-6. 300 pp. £55.00, cloth.

How refreshing it is to read a major typological study of Oceanic languages and find so little reference to Fijian and Polynesian languages—and a whole chapter devoted to Melanesian Pidgin! Although verb serialization is largely confined to Melanesia, Crowley (C) examines it across Oceanic languages from several different perspectives, with a heavy focus on data rather than theory. Chapter 1 surveys a range of functionalist (rather than formalist) typological literature on serialization, much of it within the general framework of Foley and Olsen (1985). Chapter 2 reviews the comparatively late realization of the significance of serialization among Anglophone Oceanic linguists during the 1980s, and illustrates how their linguistic descriptions were revised to focus on it. Chapter 3 presents a detailed case study of Paamese serial verbs, which nearly run the gamut of Oceanic types. Chapters 4 and 5 examine the [End Page 264] distribution, evolution, and dissolution of serial verbs in various Oceanic languages from the viewpoints of historical and comparative linguistics and of grammaticalization. Chapter 6 surveys serialization in three regional dialects of Melanesian Pidgin (Bislama, Solomons Pijin, and Tok Pisin) and reviews some of the controversy about whether universal factors or substrate factors best explain its origins. (C presents good evidence for substrate effects.) Finally, chapter 7 very briefly hints at wider implications that touch on typology, cognition, and linguistic theory.

Despite the breadth of coverage, there are some rather arbitrary omissions. There is no mention at all of Jabêm, a prominent and well-documented language in Papua New Guinea with serialization as rampant as that found in Paamese (see Bisang 1986; Bradshaw 1983, 1993, 1999, in press; Dempwolff 1939; Streicher 1982; Zahn 1940). In fact, C's reference list contains only one source in German, one in French, and one in Tok Pisin; all the rest are in English. Likewise, the chapter on distribution skips New Caledonia, even though Tinrin is later (258) acknowledged to exhibit verb serialization. Finally, C ignores the dugong in the Melanesian pond (to twist a phrase), namely, the large body of Papuan evidence for serialization and/or switch-reference syntax (with some functional overlap) as areal features in western Melanesia. The limitation to English-language sources probably reflects the book's origin as material for courses taught in the U.S. and Australia between 1997 and 2001 (xii). The restriction of coverage to a single "linguogenetic group" is to facilitate examination of both synchronic and diachronic aspects (xi). And New Caledonia was probably slighted for two reasons: most of the source materials are in French, and it lies outside the area in which Melanesian Pidgin is spoken.

C's typology recognizes three basic levels of juncture in verb serialization: nuclear, core, and peripheral. For Oceanic languages, these usually equate to lexical, phrasal, and clausal structures in more traditional terms. C acknowledges a wider structural continuum that ranges from verb compounding through nuclear and core-layer serialization through clause chaining, subordination, and coordination (18), but mostly concentrates on the lexical and phrasal layers. The major exception is a detailed examination of Erromangan and Southern Vanuatu echo-verb constructions (178-214), which in some respects resemble Papuan-style clause chains with same-or switch-reference marking, but in many cases overlap in function with the kinds of serial verb constructions found in Paamese.

C's other principal typological parameter is argument sharing. If the subject of a serialized verb is coreferent (a) with the subject of the preceding verb, as in 'they walked they passed village', it is "same-subject" serialization; (b) with the object of the preceding verb, as in 'they hit pig it died', it is "switch-subject" serialization; (c) with both the subject and the object, as in 'I'll take you we'll go' (or Latin venite adoremus 'come let us adore'?), it is "inclusory" serialization; or (d) with no identifiable argument except the general environment, as in 'you'll count chickens it'll be correct', it is "ambient" serialization. C also lists...


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