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  • Borrowing: A Pacific Perspective
  • Uri Tadmor
Borrowing: A Pacific Perspective, edited by Jan Tent and Paul Geraghty. Pacific Linguistics 548. Canberra: Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, The Australian National University, 2004. ISBN 0-85883-532-0; xi + 330 pages, tables, figures, bibliography. A$99.00 (including GST).

It is a truism that the Pacific is where East meets West, where cultures sometimes clash and often influence each other. Nowhere is this more apparent than in language. Many European languages—especially local varieties thereof—have borrowed from Pacific [End Page 640] languages. Given the sociohistorical context, it is not surprising that the opposite influence—of European languages on Pacific ones—has been far greater. In some extreme cases, this resulted in language death, or conversely in the creation of new mixed languages, known as pidgins and creoles. But in most cases, local languages have been maintained, while incorporating elements from the intruding languages.

The presence of some European languages in the islands of the Pacific, such as German, Dutch, Spanish, and Portuguese, proved to be temporary (if lengthy for some). French has enjoyed more permanency. But the language that has most influenced the indigenous languages of the Pacific is undoubtedly English. The present volume contains several chapters dealing almost exclusively with English loanwords in Pacific languages, such as Ulrike Mosel's chapter on the study of borrowing and language planning in Samoan (chapter 12); Ross Clark's on English loans in Ifira-Mele (chapter 2); Jan Tent's on lexical borrowing in Fiji English (chapter 16); Ray Harlow's on borrowing and its alternatives in Mäori (chapter 7); and Albert Schütz's classic study of English loanwords in Fijian, specially edited for this volume (chapter 14).

While many believe that English was the first European language to influence Pacific languages, Paul Geraghty and Jan Tent present a case for the earlier borrowing from Dutch (chapter 6). They document and discuss in great detail six or seven words that were apparently introduced into some languages of Polynesia by Dutch visitors before the arrival of the English. The authors—who are also editors of this volume—argue that these words subsequently spread to many other Pacific languages through contact. This latter point—that, as Paul Geraghty put it, "Pacific islanders were far more mobile than has generally been believed" (65)—is one of the most interesting realizations to emerge from the book. Indeed, lexical borrowing between sometimes very distant languages can constitute powerful evidence for such mobility, in the absence or paucity of historical and archaeological evidence. (Unfortunately, no maps are provided in the book, so the reader does not get a full picture of the great distances involved.) A study that bucks this trend is Wolfgang Sperlich's (chapter 15), which demonstrates that, contrary to previous claims, there are no signs of Samoan and East Polynesian substrata in Niuean.

In addition to the mutual influence between European and Pacific languages, and the influence of Pacific languages on each other, one more interesting case is discussed. This is the influence of Hindi on Fijian and Fijian English, as well as on the few Dravidian languages spoken by small groups in Fiji, discussed by France Mugler (chapter 13).

This book is an important contribution to our understanding of the process of linguistic borrowing, not only in the Pacific, but also in general. As can be expected from such a wide-ranging volume that brings together papers written by different authors in different periods, their quality or relevance is not always even. Yet the original papers first published in this volume—which constitute the bulk of the chapters—do exhibit a degree of [End Page 641] cohesion and make frequent references to each other.

As Terry Crowley pointed out, "there are surprisingly few comprehensive studies providing quantitative information about the distribution of loan words in ordinary usage in Pacific languages" (49). However, the Pacific is far from unique in this respect; the same could be said for most languages of the world. Many of the purported universals that one tends to read in general studies of lexical borrowing—that nouns are more commonly borrowed than verbs, that basic vocabulary...


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