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  • A short morphology, phonology and vocabulary of Kiput, Sarawak
  • Adrian Clynes
Robert Blust . 2003. A short morphology, phonology and vocabulary of Kiput, Sarawak. PL 546. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics. vii + 102 pp. ISBN: 0-85883-536-3. Aus$31.50, paper.

With this work the author continues a series of sketch phonologies and morphologies of Sarawak languages begun with Blust (1977) and (1988). This volume differs from the previous two both in format and in including, in addition to the descriptive sketch, discussion of features of interest to phonological theory. It is based on fieldwork carried out in 1971 as part of a larger project to collect comparative data on "over 40 language communities in northwest Borneo," the immediate result of which was the author's dissertation (Blust 1974). The briefness of the time spent gathering data on Kiput—"no more than 20-25 hours collection time," with no opportunity for further visits—shows and limits the quality of the description in various ways, as the author acknowledges. The data are then at times uneven, and some analyses are controversial. Still, in a very short time Blust was able to gather an enviable amount of information, and on a language that is no doubt endangered. The publication is therefore welcome, adding as it does to our meager knowledge of Kiput and, indirectly, of related languages.

Data were collected primarily from one of two informants, both of whom were in their teens. The 32 years' delay in publication is due in part "to uncertainties regarding some of the phonetic transcriptions (vii)." I have experienced similar uncertainties when working on the closely related Belait (Clynes 2005a), particularly over issues of contrastive length, but also because speakers of Belait can produce a disconcerting variety of phonetic realizations of the same item. Blust mentions the first problem (38) and may well have experienced the latter difficulty, as he has reported phonetic variability in the also closely related Miri (Blust 1974). Beatrice Clayre (pers. comm.) has suggested that this variability is an areal feature in eastern Sarawak.

The work has two parts, the Discussion, which gives the grammatical analysis—often with a historical-comparative slant, not surprising given the broader interests of the author—and the Vocabulary, a glossary or dictionary of Kiput containing more than 930 lexical bases. The Discussion is in turn divided into five sections: Background, Subsystems, Morphology, Phonology, and Vocabulary. I will describe these in turn, adding some comments.

The Background section gives information on the location and number of speakers, the "genealogy" of the language, and previous relevant publications. In 1971 there were "perhaps 450" speakers, said to be confined to a single longhouse on the Baram River. That number has probably declined since then, given general trends of language loss in the region (cf., for example, various papers in Martin [1994], including Bibi Aminah Abdul Ghani and Abang Ahmad Ridzuan on Miri, Martin [1995] on minority languages in Brunei, including the closely related Belait and Tutong, and Bibi Aminah [2005] on Bintulu). The position of Kiput in the Berawan-Lower Baram branch of the North Sarawak subgroup of Austronesian—itself first named and described by Blust (1974)—is outlined. Of the four previous publications mentioned that are entirely or partially devoted to Kiput, three are by Blust himself (1974, 2000, 2002), the fourth by Ray (1913). [End Page 262]

The data collection process is alluded to rather than described (contrasts having been checked in the last two or three meetings with some tape recordings being made at the same time). The main or only method of data collection appears to have been elicitation of single words and simple sentences. This was a reasonable approach given the larger aims and limitations of the 1971 project, even if it inevitably limits the conclusions the author can make.

The next section of the Discussion, Subsystems, gives brief information in turn about numerals and nominal classifiers, personal and possessive pronouns, demonstrative pronouns, and kinship terms. Of interest to this reader were the trial/paucal pronoun series (which I may have missed in Belait) and the lack of a distinct Object/Oblique pronoun series (Belait has such a series). Blust is cautious in...


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