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  • A Grammar of the Thangmi Language: With an Ethnographic Introduction to the Speakers and Their Culture by Mark Turin
  • David Bradley
A Grammar of the Thangmi Language: With an Ethnographic Introduction to the Speakers and Their Culture. Mark Turin. 2 vols. Brill's Tibetan Studies Library 5/6. Leiden: Brill, 2012. Pp. xxxviii + 958. $232.00 (hardcover).

This is an excellent and comprehensive grammar of a Tibeto-Burman language spoken in north central Nepal (more often called Thami in the literature, from the Nepali name for the group). It includes forty-five texts (pp. 485-754) from a variety of genres and a very extensive Thangmi-to-English lexicon (pp. 755-918), which make it an extremely valuable record of this endangered language.

The book starts with a chapter on the linguistic classification of Thangmi. In the earliest classification of Tibeto-Burman by Grierson (1909), usually followed by later scholars such as Benedict (1972) and Shafer (1974), Thangmi is grouped most closely with Baram and then with Tibeto-Burman languages of far northwestern Nepal and to the west in India. But following recent work by van Driem (2001), Turin has now clearly demonstrated that Thangmi is indeed closely related to Baram, and should be linked further instead with Newar, Chepang, and related languages, and only more distantly with the Kiranti langages to which it is geographically closest. There are minor problems with some of the evidence adduced for this connection. The negative verb prefix ma- is not just found in Thangmi and a few surrounding languages (p. 7); in fact, it is near-universal throughout Tibeto-Burman, as correctly noted later (p. 371). It is clear that the numeral classifier systems of Tibeto-Burman languages are secondary, and as Thangmi has been in extensive contact with Dolakha Newar for over a millennium, it would be surprising if the systems did not line up closely (pp. 13-16); one might also wonder whether the Thangmi classifier gore for houses, Newari gar/gur, should also be linked with Nepali and other Indo-Aryan ghar 'house'. Similarly, some of the lexical similarities between Newar and Thangmi cited (pp. 25-28) may be due to contact, as Turin indicates, and some have Tibeto-Burman etymologies outside this subgroup, but there are many shared innovations in basic vocabulary, such as Thangmi daŋ 'year', Newar da/daṃ, among many others; this may be further related to the Kiranti form *toŋ reconstructed in Michailovsky (2003:246) as a bound form for 'year'.

The second chapter (pp. 31-161) begins with an extremely comprehensive overview of all the literature on Thangmi, including popular as well as more scholarly efforts. It then moves on to a thorough discussion of ethnic group names, location and population information (38,500 people in the ethnic group, including about five thousand in Darjeeling and Sikkim in India, but mainly in northern central Nepal and scattered further east), discussion of the two dialects of Thangmi with extensive examples and comparison with materials collected since 1901 by previous scholars, and a discussion of the degree of vitality of the language (it is most fluently spoken by those over fifty, less fluently spoken by young people under twenty). The Thangmi origin story is briefly summarized (pp. 108-29); this includes the source and meaning of the original seven patriclans and seven matriclans, with additional clans resulting from contact with Dolakha Newar and others. There is a thorough discussion of the Thangmi kinship system (pp. 130-49), with numerous excellent charts showing kinship terminology (pp. 919-33). The chapter concludes with a brief discussion of Thangmi ritual life, led by the shaman who is called guru (using the Nepali word for 'teacher'), the rites of passage in which he assists, [End Page 302] and a brief speculative history of the long-standing contact between Dolakha Newar and Thangmi.

Chapter 3 is on phonology. Thangmi has a typical Indic system with four types of stop or affricate consonants (voiceless unaspirated, voiceless aspirated, voiced and breathy voiced), and five places of articulation for these consonants including bilabial, dental, retroflex, and velar stops, as well as alveolar affricates c [ts], ch [tsh], j [dz], and jh [dzɧ]; these...


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