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  • The lexicon of Proto Oceanic: The culture and environment of ancestral Oceanic society. Volume 3: Plants
  • Mark Merlin
Malcolm Ross, Andrew Pawley, and Meredith Osmond, eds. 2008. The lexicon of Proto Oceanic: The culture and environment of ancestral Oceanic society. Volume 3: Plants. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics 599. xxvii + 537 pp. ISBN 978-085-88-3589-4. $Aust. 137.50 (Australia), $Aust. 125.00 (elsewhere), paper.

Oceanic is an extensive subgroup that contains about 460 of the roughly 1,200 Austronesian languages. As originally conceived, the volume under review was to be the third of five volumes, and was to focus on the lexicon of both plants and animals of Proto-Oceanic, the hypothetical ancestor of the Oceanic languages that entered the western Pacific from insular Southeast Asia around 3400 BP. However, because of the sheer volume of material on the plant world that required comparative linguistic treatment, this volume is concerned exclusively with the terminologies of wild and cultivated plants; and, as a consequence, an additional volume is now planned to cover the faunal terminology of Proto-Oceanic.

Although this is not a book that many professional or lay people will read cover to cover, at least not over a short period of time, it is a remarkably large and valuable reference source. The editors and other contributors are to be commended for providing us with a vast amount of modern linguistic, botanical, and ethnobotanical information, along with some general and many specific theoretical aspects regarding how the speakers of Proto Oceanic classified and interacted with the plants with which they were acquainted in their respective environments. The book also helps us understand how their descendants came to recognize and utilize plants that they themselves transported to other islands in Near and Remote Oceania, as well as those that were naturally distributed (indigenous or endemic species) in the inland environments they eventually found and settled over time.

This volume of the already impressive and useful Proto-Oceanic Lexicon series contains 14 chapters. The first three include a general introduction, an introduction to Proto Oceanic plant names, and an overview of ethnobotanical classification; these are followed by a series of chapters that cover, respectively, the parts of plants, wild plants of the coastal strand, wild plants of the mangrove swamp, wild plants of primary lowland tropical rain forest, wild plants of secondary lowland rain forest and grasslands, the staple foods of root crops, bananas, breadfruit and sago, green vegetables and figs, nut and fruit trees, the coconut palm, other cultivated plants, and a chapter with concluding notes. In addition, this large volume has two appendices, one that covers the data sources and collation, and another that refers to the languages involved in this study. Furthermore, there is an extensive reference section, an index of reconstructions by protolanguage, an alphabetical index of reconstructions, an index of plant names, and finally an index of plant names by families. Many useful, basic maps are presented for a variety of purposes, along with many line drawings from diverse sources that, more or less, help the reader visualize the plant species being discussed. The editors of this valuable interdisciplinary book are Malcolm Ross, Andrew Pawley, and Meredith Osmond. Most of the chapters were written by Ross with two chapters contributed by Bethwyn Evans; Ross and Evans also coauthored the whole chapter devoted to the ethnobotanically important coconut palm.

Similar to its predecessors in the series, this volume focuses on a specific semantic field, and in this case it is the flora that was traditionally used by the peoples who spoke [End Page 518] Proto-Oceanic. Major attention is given to the terms used by Proto-Oceanic speakers to classify plants (chapter 3 by Evans), as well as to identify plant species, and even specific parts of plants (chapter 4 by Evans). Linguists, ethnobotanists, botanists, anthropologists, archaeologists, geographers, and culture historians will find this book to be a broadly useful base of information. It could also be used for a variety of college-level courses, especially those with an interdisciplinary focus, and could serve as a reference for research involving a number of topics including not only language, but also vegetation, floristics, and traditional use...


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