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  • The lexicon of Proto Oceanic: The culture and environment of ancestral Oceanic society. 1. Material culture
  • George W. Grace
Malcolm Ross, Andrew Pawley, and Meredith Osmond, eds. 1998. The lexicon of Proto Oceanic: The culture and environment of ancestral Oceanic society. 1. Material culture. Series C-152. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics. xxi + 350 pp. A$59.00, paper.

I find this work very welcome for a number of reasons. For one thing, in this era when linguists are encouraged to think of languages as no more than so many arbitrarily different encoding systems for the same set of potential propositions, it is particularly gratifying to find a work with this combination of title and subtitle-one that acknowledges the continuity between the language and the culture by which it is shaped and to which it gives expression.

For another thing, it offers a conspicuous measure of the magnitude of the progress that has occurred in Oceanic historical linguistics since I first became involved in the field. Back then I would never have imagined that such a work might be possible by the end of the century-if ever.

The volume under review is the first of a planned five-volume work. I'm not aware of any other work that is exactly comparable. It amounts to an attempt to reconstruct Proto-Oceanic culture-that is, the culture of the speakers of the Proto-Oceanic language (POc)-using the linguistic comparative method as the central tool. There have, of course, been many studies, especially within Indo European, devoted to reconstructing the vocabularies for particular semantic domains, but a global study such as this is exceptional.

The present volume is devoted to material culture; the subject matter planned for volumes 2-5 is described as follows: 2. "the physical world including landscape and conceptions of location, meteorology, astronomy and time"; 3. "flora and fauna"; 4. "terminologies centring on human beings, including the body and basic human conditions and activities, and social organization"; and 5. "grammatical (closed) categories including adjectives, pronouns, and number. … As it is planned at the time of writing, [it] will also include an index to the POC and other reconstructions presented in the whole work, as well as an English-to-POc finder-list and a list of all languages cited, together with their subgroups" (p. 1).

The chapters in volume 1 are: 1. Introduction (Malcolm Ross, Andrew Pawley, and Meredith Osmond); 2. Proto-Oceanic phonology and morphology (Malcolm Ross); 3. Architectural forms and settlement patterns (Roger Green and Andrew Pawley); 4. Household artefacts (Meredith Osmond and Malcolm Ross); 5. Horticultural practices (Meredith Osmond); 6. Food preparation (Frantisek Lichtenberk and Meredith Osmond); 7. Canoes and seafaring (Andrew Pawley and Medina Pawley); 8. Fishing and hunting implements (Meredith Osmond); and 9. Acts of impact, force, and change of state (Malcolm Ross, Ross Clark, and Meredith Osmond). There are two appendices (Data sources and collation, and Languages), references, and an index of the reconstructions.

The first and second chapters (Introduction, Proto-Oceanic phonology and morphology) are, as would be expected, introductory to the five-volume work as a [End Page 204] whole. Chapter 1 (1-14) begins with a description of the aims of the work (which is described as a "thesaurus"). It is made clear that the intended audience for the work includes "culture historians, archaeologists and others interested in the prehistory of the Pacific region" as well as linguists. The chapter goes on to discuss previous relevant works and their relation to the present one. It then describes the methodology employed: first, the method of "terminological reconstruction" and second, the subgrouping assumptions and sound correspondences on which the reconstructions are based. I'll comment briefly on each.

Terminological reconstruction (4-7). When anyone contemplates describing the lexicon of a protolanguage (or for that matter, of any language at all), the linear order required in writing poses a problem: In what order should the items be presented? One solution-that adopted by most dictionaries-is simply to arrange the items in alphabetical order of the signantia. This has the advantage of making the compilation very simple and straightforward, and the special attention that it accords to the signantia...


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