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Reviewed by:
  • Kokota Grammar
  • Bethwyn Evans
Bill Palmer . 2009. Kokota Grammar. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press. Oceanic Linguistics Special Publication No. 35. xxi + 422 pp. ISBN 978-0-8248-3251-3. $36.00, paper.

Kokota is an Oceanic language of Santa Isabel island in the Solomon Islands. It is most closely related to other languages of Santa Isabel and together they form a subgroup of the Northwest Solomonic branch of Meso-Melanesian, itself a subgroup of Western Oceanic. Prior to the publication of Bill Palmer's Kokota Grammar, little was known of Santa Isabel languages. Kokota was represented in the literature by a word list in Tryon and Hackman (1983), and a grammar sketch by Palmer (2002). Detailed research on other Santa Isabel languages was limited to a dictionary of Cheke Holo (White, Kokhonigita, and Pulomana 1988) and an unpublished dissertation on the grammar of Zabana (Fitzsimons 1989), two languages spoken to the east and west of Kokota, respectively.1 Thus Palmer's detailed description of Kokota is a valuable addition to our knowledge of Santa Isabel languages in particular and Oceanic languages in [End Page 532] general. Kokota Grammar also makes an important contribution to language documentation, and to linguistic typology more broadly. The grammar, along with Palmer's (2007) online dictionary, provides extensive primary data and fine-grained grammatical analysis of a language that shows a number of cross-linguistically unusual features (e.g., VSO clause order and a series of voiceless nasals, lateral, and rhotic).

Palmer begins his description with an overview of the location and population of the Kokota speech community, as well as its place within the Oceanic subgroup of Austronesian. The introduction to the grammar itself is limited to a very brief mention of the general topics to be addressed in the following chapters.

From here, he launches directly into the analysis of Kokota phonology in chapter 2. At nearly 60 pages long, this chapter provides a much more detailed analysis of segmental phonology, syllable structure, stress, and prosodic processes than is found in many grammars of Oceanic languages. The central aspect of the chapter appears to be the analysis of Kokota stress patterns. Following metrical and moraic approaches, Palmer presents evidence that Kokota stress assignment is trochaic; the trochee, or leftmost syllable or mora of each foot, is stressed, and primary stress occurs on the rightmost, or head, foot. However, he does not restrict himself to this discussion of regular stress patterns, but examines the significant degree of across- and within-speaker variation, concluding that stress assignment in Kokota is undergoing change from a regime of moraic trochees to syllabic trochees. The data supporting the changing nature of stress assignment in Kokota come from (i) age-based variation of stress patterns, and (ii) the effects of apparent fossilized morphology, such that certain irregular stress patterns can be explained by the original presence of bound morphemes and the gradual interpretation of these forms as monomorphemic. Such an analysis of variation in stress patterns is naturally complex, and relies on accurate analysis of a large sample of data. Palmer supports his argument with a selection of carefully chosen example words as well as comments on overall frequencies of different stress patterns. Following the argumentation is made easier for the reader by the use of tree diagrams illustrating phonological word structure and the resulting stress assignment under both a moraic and a syllabic analysis. Chapter 2 also comprises detailed discussions of segmental phonology and prosodic processes.

Chapter 3 describes all aspects of the noun phrase in Kokota, from its internal phrase structure to the individual elements within it. The first part of the chapter focuses on the elements that can occur as the head of a noun phrase, namely nouns, pronouns, and demonstratives, as well as those that occur as adnominal modifiers, including articles, quantifiers, and adjectives. The description of each of these word classes covers both their forms and details of their use and functions. The Kokota system of demonstratives, for example, is rather elaborate, distinguishing five deictic categories (touching, within reach, nearby, potentially visible, not visible), plus singular and plural number, and occurring as both independent and bound forms (72). As well as...


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