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  • Marquesan: A grammar of space
  • Giovanni Bennardo
Gabriele H. Cablitz . 2006. Marquesan: A grammar of space. New York: Mouton de Gruyter. xx + 682 pp. ISBN-13: 978-3-11-018949-0. $172.80, hardcover.

When I finished reading this book I tried to make sense of the many reactions that were crowding my mind. First and foremost, there was a sense of accomplishment: the book is long and the linguistic details to absorb through a foreign language are, to say the least, abundant. Second, I found myself pleasurably enriched with a substantial knowledge of Marquesan, a Polynesian language. Third, I realized that the literature on the linguistic representation of spatial relationships was now brilliantly lengthened by another exquisite linguistic description. Of course, these reactions do not fully represent the "crowd" in my mind, but they are the ones that appropriately illustrate my fundamental reading of the book. They describe, and at the same time constrain, its merit. Details follow.

In the introductory chapter, the aim of the book is clearly stated as "the linguistic analysis of the form, the meaning and the use of spatial expressions or lexemes, as well as a general formal classification of lexemes in Marquesan" (7). This is motivated by "two interesting aspects of the language, namely the semantic structuring of space, and the formal classification of Marquesan spatial 'expressions'" (7). The book is then intended as a "reference grammar of space" [italics in original] and "includes the description of how ... locative constructions are actually used on different scales of reference" (11).

In chapter 2 a clear and concise sketch is provided of the geographic, historical, and linguistic context within which the study was conducted. The same chapter contains a brief description of the methodology used to collect the linguistic data, mainly from the kit of stimuli designed by the Cognitive Anthropology Research Group of the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen, The Netherlands (CARG, 1992).

Chapter 3, entitled 'Grammatical Sketch', is 157 pages long. It is a lucid, well organized, and informative description of the 'Ua Pou vernacular, the Northwest Marquesan language investigated (two other vernaculars are spoken on neighboring islands). This chapter in itself is an excellent contribution to the grammatical description of Polynesian languages and should be of considerable value to interested scholars. In fact, it could stand as a work of its own, but a much shorter account would have sufficed for this book. Besides, scholars interested in a grammar of 'Uo Pou Marquesan might easily overlook it, since the grammatical description is buried in a book with a different focus (grammar of space). The author might profitably consider the publication of this chapter as a separate book at some time in the future.

Chapter 4 is a review of the literature about the linguistic representation of space. While reference is made to a variety of authors, the proposals and theoretical positions of only two scholars are discussed at length, namely Klein and Levinson. Since the author wrote this book with the support of the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, this is not surprising (both authors are members of the Institute). Besides, these two authors represent a substantial and influential section of the literature. Cablitz adopts Levinson's (2003) proposed typology of frames of reference, but she disagrees with him about the conclusion he draws from the congruence between linguistic and cognitive representations of spatial relationships in his data, namely language affecting [End Page 618] thought or a form of linguistic relativity. Cablitz states that those results are also explainable as "conventionalization" (216).

Among the many issues presented, I found the discussion of landmarks and directionals most interesting. The author defines a landmark as "an ontological inbetween-category of being neither thing nor place" (267, italics in original). Any landmark can potentially become a directional, but in order to become a true directional it must be part of one of the "directional systems [that] are only expressed through a system of directional opposition" (278, italics in original). Ad hoc landmarks represent an intermediate category: in other words, not true directionals.

The next three chapters represent the bulk of the linguistic analysis. Chapter 5 contains analyses of locative constructions "on a...


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