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Reviewed by:
  • Topics in descriptive Austronesian linguistics
  • Sander Adelaar
Ger P. Reesink , ed. 1993. Topics in descriptive Austronesian linguistics. Semaian 11. Leiden (Netherlands): Vakgroep Talen en Culturen van Zuidoost-Azië en Oceanië, Rijksuniversiteit te Leiden. viii + 291 pp. Dutch Hfl. 30.00, paper. ISBN 90-73084-12-1.

This book contains nine sections, which are based on some of the papers that were presented at a seminar on Descriptive Austronesian and Papuan Linguistics organized by the Department of Languages and Cultures of Southeast Asia and Oceania at Leiden University in September 1991. Although they cover a rather diverse range of languages and topics, their common interest is their descriptive nature and their concern with Austronesian languages. Three sections deal with Austro-nesian languages from Papua New Guinea, three deal with Indonesian (and, in one case, also with Tagalog), two deal with languages in the Timor area, and one deals with speech register in the languages in and around Java.

The section by Bugenhagen is an important contribution toward a better understanding of the rather evasive nature of IRREALIS. In the descriptive literature, certain linguistic terms do not always refer to the same phenomenon, nor do they always have the same scope of use. Furthermore, different terms do not necessarily refer to separate functions. Bugenhagen tries to determine the nature and scope of the category irrealis in seven languages of New Guinea: Manam, Sursurunga, Nakanai, Mangseng, Sio, Muyuw, and Sinaugoro. These are all Austronesian languages, but no two of them exhibit an identical range of irrealis uses. It is in fact not possible to identify a least common denominator as an irrealis core. On the other hand, there is a prototypical set of contexts to which irrealis applies, including [End Page 429] future, hypothetical conditionals, counterfactual conditionals, complements of predicates expressing 'want', and negative purpose clauses. Irrealis applies somewhat less to purpose clauses and to the complements of predicates expressing ability and obligation, and it applies even less to commands, prohibitions, negated utterances with past temporal reference, and reports of past events that are known to have taken place.

Ross describes interclausal relations in Takia, a heavily Papuanized Austronesian language spoken on Karkar and Bagabag off the Papua New Guinea north coast (near Madang). Takia has a complex system of clause-chaining distinguishing between (1) independent clauses, (2) clauses that are coordinate vis-à-vis each other (they are incompletely marked and they are dependent on a final independent clause whose marking has the full chain in its scope), and (3) subordinate clauses. These clauses are linked to each other by a large number of enclitics distinguishing aspect, mood, and whether or not the preceding clause is dependent. Ross also addresses the more general issue that lexical and morphosyntactic knowledge of a language is never enough to speak that language. From his perspective, this is particularly the case with Takia, which has discourse strategies that are very different from European languages as well as from many other Oceanic Austronesian languages. There is moreover the problem of "content substance" (the sum of conventional ways in which speakers of a certain language construe reality, cf. Grace 1981:24). If speakers of different languages observe the same continuity of activity through time, they may construe those events differently. Ross gives the example of an elderly Takia speaker, whose life story has almost no references to times and places (making his narrative difficult to follow for westerners) but who construes his story "as a series of instalments, each consisting of experiences [that] have further prepared him for life and of relationships with people from whom he has learned." Languages that are genetically unrelated and have quite different morphosyntactic systems and unrelated lexicons may have similar content substance. This section is certainly one of the most interesting ones, not only for its excellent description but also for the more general descriptive issues it raises. One wonders to what extent Takia is unique in respect to its discourse strategies, and to what extent its difference is a function of the Papuan influence it has undergone. In other words, how much difficulty would speakers from a neighboring Papuan language have in learning Takia? And what part of the learning...


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