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  • A dictionary of Buin, a language of Bougainville
  • Peter C. Lincoln
Donald C. Laycock . 2003. A dictionary of Buin, a language of Bougainville, ed. by Masayuki Onishi. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics. PL 537. xxvii + 355 pp. ISBN 0-85883-511-8. Aus$72, paper.

The Buin dictionary is a long-awaited achievement. It contains a forward by Pacific Linguistics editor Malcolm Ross giving some background (vi-vii); a preface by editor Masayuki Onishi giving more details of how he brought the book to print (viii-ix); a list of abbreviations and conventions (x-xii); a terse grammatical sketch by Don Laycock [L] (xiii-xxvii); the main entries by L (1-256), among them 20 pages of illustrations (on average two pages preceding each initial letter) by L's wife Tania highlighting cultural and natural objects; and an English-Buin finder list (257-326), supplemented by a section on Buin semantic fields: fauna, flora, kin terms, place names, and personal names (327-55).1 L presents well-written definitions for thousands of Buin words and enough grammar fragments to parse the interesting example phrases and sentences that expand most definitions. This review is confined to providing more context and to quibbling about some of the choices made in the presentation of L's work. The quibbles may highlight choices many of us documenting languages face. The context will show that L's effort succeeds both as an independent witness to the genius of this language and as an important tool in piecing together the development of the South Buin family and in evaluating the East Papuan phylum.

As editor, Onishi wisely kept the volume as primarily L's work, only revising when he found evidence within the manuscript, thus avoiding hard-to-contain revisions from his own experience. Onishi missed few clues, but he grossly overlooked L's previous publications on Buin. In particular, hundreds of mysterious poetic transforms of names are included without even being identified as such. Laycock (1969) detailed the processes.

The Buin dictionary project actually started in 1908. The German anthropologist Richard Thurnwald worked among the Buin just about the time missionaries and German administrators were getting established in Bougainville. L encountered the Buin language in 1963, when he called on Frau Thurnwald in Berlin (Melk-Koch 1992). With a PhD from ANU, L had recently established himself as a scholar of Sepik languages. He sought and obtained linguistic materials collected in the Sepik by the generous Frau's late husband. As a bonus, he wound up with a manuscript dictionary and grammar for Buin, the intended volume 2 of Thurnwald 1912, based on visits to Buin in 1908-9 and 1933-34 (Laycock 1969:2). (That material is now available on microfilm as Thurnwald 2004.) L was soon hooked. He spent from November 1966 into May 1967 in Paariro Village revising and extending these materials. For the rest of his life, L would tell any reasonably good listener fascinating details of the Buin language' [End Page 250] for example, how a strong Buin accent could transform Tok Pisin em tasol 'that's it' into [ensatoη], thus illustrating in a word that, in Buin, [s] and [t] do not contrast, nor do syllable-final nasals, that /n/ often substitutes for a liquid, and that the final nasal would be realized as [η]. L could yarn on scores of topics, but Buin remained a favorite until the end. Actual work on the project was slow. As early as 1969, the Pacific Linguistics catalogue began advertising as "in preparation" a publication numbered C-12, Basic materials in Buin: Grammar, texts, and dictionary. However, even by 1988, not all the material had made it into L's computer. There were difficulties from the start. While in the field in 1967, L kept finding flaws in Thurnwald's materials. When he communicated his disappointment to Frau Thurnwald, the widow bravely understood and encouraged him to proceed as sole author (Melk-Koch 1992).

Had L managed to finish the dictionary on his own, he would surely have told some of the Thurnwald story. He would also have acknowledged the substantial help of Paul Raukai Rorugagi of Paariro Village. In their first five weeks together...


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