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Reviewed by:
  • Structure de la Langue Tahitienne
  • Darrell Tryon
Gilbert Lazard and Louise Peltzer. 2000. Structure de la Langue Tahitienne. Paris; Louvain; Stirling, Virginia: Peeters. SELAF No. 391. 258pp. ISBN 90-429-0947-1. €30.00.

Tahitian ( te reo tahiti) is the language of the Society Islands and the major language of French Polynesia, spoken by the majority of its 200,000 inhabitants. It is the lingua francaof the territory, an official language in the Territorial Assembly, and is taught in primary and secondary schools and also at the University of French Polynesia.

It has been written since 1810, when the London Missionary Society's John Davies established a Tahitian orthography, publishing a first grammar in 1823 and a major dictionary in 1851. Since that time, Tahitian has been the subject of numerous studies, among the most important of which are the works of Bishop Jaussen (1887), Vernier and Drollet (1934), and Vernier (1959). More recent grammatical descriptions include Tryon (1970), Coppenrath and Prévost (1975), the grammar of the Tahitian Academy (1986), and Peltzer (1996). Most of these descriptions failed to do justice to the structure of Tahitian, as they were based either on a latinate model or were influenced by descriptions of other non-Polynesian languages.

Lazard and Peltzer present a rather different analysis and description. Their grammar differs essentially from previous descriptions in that it attempts to come to terms with the well-known phenomenon in Polynesian languages that nouns and verbs are not morphologically distinct word classes. As words are for the most part invariable in Tahitian, they cannot be assigned to any particular word class, such as verbs, nouns, or adjectives, based solely on their form.

L&P consider, then, that as semantics is too hazardous a route to invoke, the only classificatory criteria remaining lie in the combinatory possibilities of the grammatical units that they define. The authors have proceeded to base their grammatical analysis of Tahitian on a series of what they term "basic syntactic units" (unités syntactiques de base). For example, a BSU consisting of a lexeme preceded by an "aspect" particle is identifiable with certainty because aspectuals form a closed set whose members may be simply listed. Another type of BSU is defined, according to L&P, by the presence of an "article," and yet another by the presence of an "inclusive" particle. Such a procedure makes it possible to describe grammatical structures without having to begin by setting up word classes. On the other hand, it provides the possibility of setting up classes of lexemes, using as criteria the types of BSU that each lexeme may form. L&P state that this could be achieved for each and every lexeme in the language, but that this would be a long and arduous task that they may consider in the future.

The authors are quick to reassure the reader that they are not about to break into a whole set of neologisms in their analysis, but rather that they use well-known terms in a special way. So, for example, every BSU consisting of a lexeme preceded by an aspect marker is called a "verbal form" (VF), while BSUs consisting of a lexeme preceded by an article are called "nominal forms" (NF). [End Page 267]

L&P analyze Tahitian as consisting of six major BSUs, as follows:

  1. 1. A Verbal Form (VF), which consists of a lexeme preceded by an aspect marker/particle. For example, 'ua haerein:

      'Ua haere 'oia i Pape'ete.

       ASPgo 3 S PREP LOC

      'He went to Papeete.'

  2. 2. The following constructions are Nominal Forms (NFs):

    • • a common noun formed by an article followed by a lexeme, as in:

        te fare'the house'

        te taote'the doctor'

    • • a proper noun, normally preceded by an identifier:

        'o Petero'Peter'

    • • a personal pronoun or a demonstrative:



  3. 3. A lexeme preceded by an inclusive particle is an Inclusive or Existential Form (IF):

       e manu'is a bird/there is bird'

       e fa'ehau'is a soldier/there is soldier'

  4. 4. A Locative Form (LOC) is a lexeme that may be directly preceded by a preposition, but not by an...


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