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Reviewed by:
  • Vitu grammar sketch
  • Ulrike Mosel
René van den Berg and Peter Bachet. 2006. Vitu grammar sketch. Ukarumpa: Summer Institute of Linguistics. Data Papers on Papua New Guinea Languages, vol. 51. ix + 244 pp. ISBN 9980-0-3207-3. $Aust 15.00, paper.

Vitu, also called Muduapa and Mudua, is a Meso-Melanesian language that is spoken by approximately 7,000 people on the French Islands in the West New Britain Province of Papua New Guinea. It is an “isolate within the Meso-Melanesian Linkage of Western Oceanic” (Ross 2002:362) and phonologically and grammatically considered as a conservative Oceanic language.

The grammar is a sketch in every sense of the word, as it outlines the basic structures of the language, but also shows areas where more details are necessary to get the full picture. Each grammatical phenomenon is illustrated by several glossed and translated examples, which enable readers to scrutinize the analysis. The source of the examples, however, is only occasionally indicated. The authors say in the introduction that many examples come from stories written in literacy courses (5), and later remark that they have been edited by native speakers (208, 234, 237), but whether the so-called “natural texts” (64) are spoken or written is not obvious. From the viewpoint of documentary linguistics, however, even the shortest sketch grammar should give the source of every example and indicate whether is has been extracted from recordings, overheard in conversations, found in an unedited or edited written text, or elicited.

The book is organized into nine chapters that describe the language in an ascending manner, progressing from phonology to complex sentences. Chapter 1 (1–7) describes the location of the language, its dialects, its sociocultural setting, and its main typological features. Chapter 2 (8–20) gives an overview of phonology and morphophonemics. Chapter 3 “Nouns and noun phrases” (21–68) describes the pronouns, the overlapping subclassification of nouns into alienable and inalienable nouns on the one hand and proper and common nouns on the other, the derivation of nouns by affixation and reduplication, possessive constructions, and finally the sequential order of elements in the NP. Chapter 4 “Verbs” (69–96) distinguishes three classes of verbs on the basis of their argument structure (intransitive, transitive, experiencer verbs) and describes various kinds of morphologically complex verbs such as causatives, reciprocals, passive verb forms, reduplicated verbs, and verbal compounds. Chapter 5 (97–124) gives a detailed account of “aspect-mood-sequentiality” markers (AMS). Chapter 6 “The prepositional phrase” (125–42) describes the use of the four Vitu prepositions and the proform vona, which is a suppletive form of the general preposition ni plus the third person singular pronoun. Chapter 7 “The clause” (143–81) analyzes various types of clauses and serial verb constructions, whereas chapter 8 (182–207), with the somewhat misleading title “Clausal modifications,” deals with various kinds of negation on phrasal and clausal levels, the expression of commands (imperative mode, prohibitive mode, and adhortative mode), and the formation of questions. Chapter 9 (208–33) describes complex sentences. The grammar concludes with two glossed and translated texts that were written and edited by native speakers (234–44). [End Page 301]

In the following paragraphs I focus on the general problem of the distinction of form and function in grammatical description and in particular discuss the treatment of adverbs, adjectives, and possessive classifiers. The grammar sketch does not contain a chapter on word classes and the criteria for their classification, which leads to some inconsistencies in the structure of the book. All adverbs are, for example, treated in chapter 7 in the section 7.11 “Clause periphery,” even those that are part of the NP or the verb complex (VC) like intensifiers, focusing adverbs, and “aspectual adverbs.” Section 7.11 also includes vocatives and interjections, which are extraclausal constituents.

Adjectives are regarded as a subclass of verbs (46, 69), but are described in the chapter on “nouns and noun phrases” (46–52). They are similar to verbs in that they are combined with AMS markers when functioning as predicates in “stative clauses” (150–51). On the other hand, they differ from verbs in at least two aspects: first, when modifying nouns, they...


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