- Nese: A diminishing speech variety of Northwest Malakula (Vanuatu)
This monograph is part of a series of four grammars written by Terry Crowley (C) and edited by John Lynch after C’s untimely death. A review of these four grammars written by Alexandre François appeared in 2007. This review concentrates solely on Nese. The book is organized around six chapters. Chapter 1 (1–5) details the demographic, geographical, and linguistic situation of Nese and its neighbors. Chapters 2 (6–22) and 3 (23–35) contain the Nese–English vocabulary and the finderlist, respectively. These two chapters make up about half of the book. A traditional text is found in Chapter 4 (36–37). The description of Nese starts in Chapter 5 (38–48) with the phonology. Chapter 6 (49–80) entitled “Grammar” is the longest and last chapter in the book. Subchapters include: “pronouns,” “nouns,” “verbs,” and “syntax.” The subchapters “nouns” and “verbs” are the longest. The last subchapter “syntax” covers “simple declarative clauses” (including monoclausal declaratives, prepositional phrases, locational and temporal markers), “interrogatives” (monoclausal content questions), and “complex sentences” (coordinated and subordinated clauses).
In the following paragraphs, I briefly summarize the content of each chapter and, keeping in mind that this is only a sketch of what would have surely become a full-fledged grammar had C had more time, I present a few quibbles about some analytical and organizational features.
Nese is a moribund Oceanic language with about 20 speakers living in the Matanvat area of northwest Malakula, Vanuatu. Northwest Malakula is home to at least four other language varieties or communalects, about which little is known. Njav is spoken east of Nese by about 10 people. The number of speakers of Najit, a southern neighbor of Nese, is not reported, but C notes that it too is moribund. Naha to the north of Nese is actively spoken by about 225 speakers. A wordlist from the Naha-speaking village Vovo can be found in Tryon (1976). Further north, there are about 15 people in the Alovas area who speak an indigenous communalect whose name is still unknown. Due to insufficient data, C cannot determine whether these five language varieties are dialects of the same language or distinct languages with dual-lingual speakers (Lincoln 1979), although he favors the former hypothesis, at least for Naha and Nese, as reflected in the title of the grammar: Nese is a (diminishing) speech variety.
In only four pages, C offers a dense, detailed picture of northwest Malakula. This first chapter sets the tone for the rest of the sketch grammar: the descriptions in chapters 5 and 6 aim to be as comprehensive.
Chapter 2 is aptly entitled “Nese–English vocabulary” since Nese words are not defined but simply paired with an English translation. Each entry contains the part of speech of the Nese word, an English translation, and sometimes, an example in the vernacular and its translation. The vocabulary is said to include “about 800 separate pieces of lexical information” (6). A quick look at the entries suggests that this count may not be [End Page 595] accurate, if “separate pieces of lexical information” means separate lemmas. For example, there are lexemes with exactly the same definition and part of speech listed as separate entries. They differ only in that one lexeme is the full reduplication of the other, such as long and longlong ‘black’. Other lexemes that are clearly semantically related but differ in their parts of speech are also listed as separate entries. This is the case for the indirectly possessed noun nabas and the directly possessed noun nabas-, both meaning ‘penis wrapper’, or the intransitive verb lulu ‘vomit’ and the nouns lulu and lulu- ‘vomitus.’ Most related words appear as consecutive entries in the vocabulary, but some are separated by a lemma. Were the lexicon to be expanded, words like long and longlong might lose their spatial connection, and it would perhaps be more efficient to group related...