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  • A grammar of the Hoava language, Western Solomons by Karen Davis
  • Stuart Robinson
A grammar of the Hoava language, Western Solomons. By Karen Davis. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics, 2003. Pp. 332. ISBN 0858835029. $52.28.

A grammar of the Hoava language, Western Solomons provides a descriptive grammar of Hoava, an Austronesian language with approximately 1,000 speakers in New Georgia, Solomon Islands. Austronesian is probably the most widely dispersed language family in the world, consisting of approximately 1,200 languages stretching from Madagascar in the west through the Pacific to Rapa Nui (Easter Island) in the east and from Taiwan in the north to New Zealand in the south. Hoava belongs to the Oceanic branch, a fairly well-studied branch of Austronesian which consists of approximately 500 languages.

The book is divided into nine chapters. Ch. 1 provides an overview of the grammar and information about previous studies of the language. Ch. 2 explains the linguistic situation of Hoava, which might also be called Hoava-Kusaghe on the basis of the names of its two dialects. Ch. 3 describes the phonetics and phonology of the language (whose inventory consists of sixteen consonants and five vowels). Chs. 4 and 5 cover the noun phrase and the verb phrase, respectively, and make up roughly half of the book. Ch. 4 covers various facets of the noun phrase: the head of a noun phrase, articles, quantifiers, modifiers, restrictive particles, prepositional phrases, relative clauses, possessive noun phrases, and coordination. Ch. 5 covers the verb phrase. The topics covered include verbal affixes, aspect, tense, mood, modifiers, serial verb constructions, and object incorporation. Following the distinction between clause core and periphery of role and reference grammar, Ch. 6 looks at the clause core while Ch. 7 focuses on the the clause periphery. Ch. 6 covers what might also be called argument structure: predicate types, valency-changing derivations (applicative and passive), and the nature of oblique arguments. Ch. 7 covers spatial location, temporal location, negation, and various types of clause modification (particles and adverbs). Ch. 8 examines multi-clause sentences. Finally, Ch. 9 looks at topic and focus and the devices available for their marking (particles, interrogatives, and constituent displacement).

The grammar could be improved in a few ways. First, it does not include any Hoava texts, although the author has published separately a collection of customary stories. Second, it lacks an index, which means that the only way of finding specific topics is through the table of contents, which can be inconvenient.

Island Melanesia is one of the most linguistically diverse parts of the world, and grammatical description of the nearly 1,000 languages spoken in the region is badly needed. This grammar is an important step in that direction.

Stuart Robinson
Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics