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  • Deixis and demonstratives in Oceanic languages
  • Paul Geraghty
Senft, Gunter , ed. 2004. Deixis and demonstratives in Oceanic languages. PL562. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics. vii + 204 pp. ISBN 0-85883-551-7. Aus$54.00, paper.

This collection of papers grew out of a workshop on "Spatial Deixis in Austronesian languages" organized by Senft at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen in 1998 and complements similar recent collections of papers inspired by researchers at the same institute (Senft 1997, Bennardo 2002). It consists of an introductory chapter by the editor followed by seven language-specific descriptions, and a concluding chapter in which Malcolm Ross attempts to pull the various threads together in a study of some deictic elements of Proto-Oceanic, and their development in daughter languages.

Deixis is an area that has until recently been rather neglected in Oceanic language studies. Essentially it concerns those elements of language whose meaning is determined by the context of the utterance, so includes tense, some time adverbials (e.g., today), some verbs (e.g., come/go, bring/take), demonstratives, some locationals, and pronouns. I like to think of deictics as words with an extra dimension. The emphasis in this collection is on spatial deixis, and particularly demonstratives, though local nouns, directionals, and other deictic forms and uses (such as time and discourse deixis) are also covered by some of the authors. Languages treated are Takia (Bel family, Madang, Papua New Guinea), Saliba (Papuan Tip, Papua New Guinea), Kilivila (Papuan Tip, Papua New Guinea), Pileni (Polynesian outlier, Solomons), Nêlêmwa (New Caledonia), Iaai (Loyalty Islands, New Caledonia), and Samoan (Polynesian). It seems that a chapter on Port Sandwich (South Malakula, Vanuatu) was also planned, but it does not appear—we are not told why, but there are references to this "phantom" chapter in chapter 9.

The editor's introduction, chapter 1, sets the scene with a thorough (sometimes perhaps even too thorough!) exposition of what deixis is, and helpful summaries of the following chapters. Readers used to materials written in English will find a refreshing change here, for in addition to the usual suspects of Lyons, Fillmore, Levinson, and Dixon, there are a number of German-language sources, notably Bühler, Ehrlich, and Ebert.

Chapter 2, "Aspects of deixis in Takia" by Malcolm Ross, is a description of Takia, a papuanized Oceanic language spoken on a small island off the north coast of New Guinea, focusing on demonstratives, locative noun phrases, and directional and positional verbs. These verbs are used as the second element in serial verb constructions, corresponding to postverbal particles in other Oceanic languages, and Ross argues (in chapter 9) that similar verbs were used in Proto-Oceanic. Unusually for an Oceanic language, Takia demonstratives now exhibit only two (rather than three) degrees of proximity, and Ross suggests that the current anaphoric series derive from what were previously the second-person demonstratives.

Some readers may be irked by the odd instance of etymological glossing in this chapter. For instance, the Takia verb en clearly means 'to be' (in its locational sense), as the translation of example 15 as 'there was a house' shows (also example 34). Why then is it glossed in the morpheme-by-morpheme line as 'sleep'? Houses do not sleep, so it cannot [End Page 257] have that meaning here. Whatever the meaning of its Proto-Oceanic precursor may have been is not relevant, nor is the meaning of any homophone it may have. A similar example is the glossing of mala- 'kinsman' as 'eye' (27), and mala- 'front' as 'eye' (28-29), when the meaning 'front' can be reconstructed as far back as Proto-Oceanic, and in chapter 4 Kilivila mata- is similarly glossed as 'eye' when it clearly means 'tip' (76). It's a bit like glossing the English bottom as in the bottom of the garden as 'buttocks'.

Chapter 3 is "Spatial deictics in Saliba" by Anna Margetts. Saliba is spoken on and around Saliba Island in Milne Bay Province, Papua New Guinea, and this paper focuses on demonstratives, in particular what factors determine which of the three degrees of proximity is selected.

Chapter 4 is "Aspects of spatial deixis in Kilivila...


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