- Nunggubuyu myths and ethnographic texts By Jeffrey Heath, and: Nunggubuyu dictionary By Jeffrey Heath, and: Functional grammar of Nunggubuyu By Jeffrey Heath (review)
- Linguistic Society of America
- Volume 62, Number 3, September 1986
- pp. 654-663
- View Citation
- Additional Information
REVIEW ARTICLE Nunggubuyu myths and ethnographic texts. By Jeffrey Heath. (AIAS new series, 23.) Canberra: Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, 1980. Pp. vii, 556. A$ 13.95. Nunggubuyu dictionary. By Jeffrey Heath. (AIAS new series, 36.) Canberra: Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, 1982. Pp. xvi, 399. A$ 10.45. Functional grammar of Nunggubuyu. By Jeffrey Heath. (AIAS new series, 53.) Canberra: Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, 1984. Pp. xiv, 664. A$ 16.95. [AU three volumes are distributed in the US by Humanities Press.] Reviewed by John Haiman, University ofManitoba 'The stock of recorded utterances constitutes the corpus of data, and the analysis which is made of it is a compact description of the distribution of elements within it.' (Harris 1951:12) 'It is obvious that the set ofgrammatical sentences cannot be identified with any particular corpus of utterances obtained by the linguist in his fieldwork.' (Chomsky 1957:33) 'In essence, this is a corpus-based grammar, and my ideal has been to account for all or nearly all instances in the texts of each morpheme or other feature under consideration.' (Heath, Grammar, p. 4) In his metaphysical short story 'Pierre Menard, author of the Quixote', J. L. Borges describes the masterpiece of a minor symbolist poet: the actual recreation (not the copying) of several chapters of Cervantes' classic novel— but from his own perspective. 'Cervantes' text and Menard's are verbally identical , but the second is almost infinitely richer', since ideas which were merely hackneyed clichés to Cervantes and his 17th century contemporaries were bold, unorthodox, and revolutionary when articulated three hundred years later. For the ideological dispute alluded to in the quotations above, Borges could have imagined no more perfect incarnation of Menard than Heath. Although in principle all grammars strive both for fidelity to the data and productivity, these goals have often been seen as opposed. The structuralist approach, exemplified in the Harris quotation, tends to minimize productivity, while the generative approach which superseded it tends to minimize fidelity to the data. For some time now, the limitations of the generative approach have frustrated a number of prominent linguists working (at least originally) entirely within that tradition, and there have been calls for a 'discourse-based' approach to grammar. One of the merits of H's work is in his clear recognition of the fact that this revolutionary new departure in grammatical practice is in fact a regression to 'corpus-based grammars'—'infinitely richer' than Bloomfield and Harris , but 'verbally identical' nonetheless. H's conception is bold: his grammar has no 'sample' sentences. Every grammatical statement is illustrated almost exclusively by actual texts. The immediate consequences are two. First, the 'grammar' actually consists not only of the 664-page book with that title, but also of the collection of myths and ethnographic texts (556 pages). We are dealing with a grammar of well over 1200 pages here. Second, the work is particularly difficult to read. H makes 654 REVIEW ARTICLE655 no pedagogical concessions to the reader. One must look up the attestations for every major grammatical point in another volume; further, these attestations have not been 'purified' to illustrate only the point at issue, and the reader is not expected to understand them in their entirety. No attempt is made, in other words, to build from simple to more complex examples. Reinforcing this impression of extreme difficulty is H's disconcerting habit of abbreviating some words, like 'example', throughout the text. Taken together with the presentation of data which are listed by number (and some lists are a paragraph long), these abbreviations give the grammar the flavor of a 664-page telegram in code. One more disconcerting idiosyncrasy is H's unwillingness to cite anyone but himself. One would think from his bibliography that no other Australianists existed, or that nothing written on other Australian languages has the slightest relevance to Nunggubuyu. On the theoretical side, the omissions are equally striking. H is more than familiar with theoretical terms, concepts, and innovations from general linguistics, and he uses them freely—but with no bibliographic bows to their originators. One would think, for example, that the notions offeeding, bleeding etc. (introduced and discussed on p. 106) were...