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Reviewed by:
  • Morphologies of Asia and Africa
  • Paul D. Kroeber
Morphologies of Asia and Africa. Edited by Alan S. Kaye. 2 vols. Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2007. Pp. xxiv + 1,380. $175.00 (hardcover).

The work under review presents forty-six sketches of the morphologies of about as many languages (a few of the chapters cover more than one language); forty-two authors contributed. Since I wish to assess the overall interest and effectiveness of the volumes (from the perspective of someone who is in no way an expert on any of the languages or families represented), rather than to review particular contributions, I generally do not identify the authors of chapters below.

Chapters are not standardized as to content, approach, or format, and vary as to how far their authors tried to survey the complete morphology of their subject languages. Rather, the editor–who regrettably died during the last stages of preparation of the volumes (p. xii)–followed the policy of getting knowledgeable authors to present what they judged to be interesting facts about the languages they treat, with an eye towards [End Page 354] accessibility to a wide readership within, and to some extent outside of, linguistics, and towards usefulness to students (pp. xvii–xx).

As the editor notes (p. xi), the coverage of these volumes generally parallels that of his earlier Phonologies of Asia and Africa (Kaye 1997). Instead of “Asia and Africa,” a more precise title might say “Afro-Asiatic languages and some of their neighbors.” That is, the volumes do not attempt to convey the full range of morphological types to be found in Asia and Africa, but rather reflect to some degree the editor’s interests and personal connections. I do not mean this as criticism–to actually present the full typological range of Africa and Asia would surely require considerably more than 1,380 pages–but the potential user of these volumes should be aware of the limitation.

Volume 1 is entirely devoted to Afro-Asiatic: ten chapters (pp. 3–210) on ancient Semitic languages, eight (pp. 211–427) on modern Semitic languages, five (pp. 447–586) on Cushitic languages, four (pp. 587–727) on Chadic languages, and one chapter each on Berber (pp. 429–46) and Omotic (pp. 729–51). About half of volume 2 goes to Indo-European (pp. 755–1086), including Hittite, Sanskrit, Gujarati, Avestan–Old Persian, Pahlavi, Modern Persian, Kurdish, and Classical Armenian. Non-Afro-Asiatic Africa is represented just by chapters on Kanuri and Swahili (pp. 1089–1158), and Altaic only by a brief chapter on Turkish (pp. 1161–69). Remaining chapters include two on Caucasian languages (Chechen-Ingush and Tsez, pp. 1173–1204), one on Indonesian (pp. 1207–30), and one chapter each on some important ancient and modern isolates or near-isolates (Burushaski, Ket, and Sumerian, pp. 1233–1379). The sketches range in length from a six-page chapter on some topics in Moroccan Arabic (pp. 249–55) to an eighty-eight-page treatment of Avestan and Old Persian (pp. 853–940), though most hover closer to a twenty-to-thirty-page average.

Choice of languages to cover is inevitably a problem in a project of this sort, as the editor notes (p. xx). Inevitably, plenty of languages with interesting morphology fail to be represented. And, on the other hand, one might wonder, for example, how much purpose it serves to have chapters on both Sanskrit and Avestan, given that these languages are notoriously closely similar in their grammars. Still, both these sketches are quite detailed and good, and having both provides historical background for the chapters on later Indo-Aryan and Iranian languages.

The chapters whose inclusion I am most inclined to question are those on some of the ancient Semitic languages whose writing systems fail to indicate vowels and gemination of consonants (Ugaritic, Phoenician, and Epigraphic South Arabian). Since presumably vowel patterns and gemination were as morphologically important as they are elsewhere in Semitic, how much of the morphology of these languages can actually be recovered? However well-done these sketches are, they would be more appropriately placed in a handbook of the Semitic family than in volumes whose primary purpose is presumably to...


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