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  • Tamambo, a language of Malo, Vanuatu by Dorothy G. Jauncey
  • Daniel Kaufman
Dorothy G. Jauncey. 2011. Tamambo, a language of Malo, Vanuatu. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics 622. 449 pp. ISBN 978-0-858-83633-4. $Aust. 110.00 (Australia), $Aust. 100.00 (elsewhere), paper.

Tamambo is a conservative Oceanic language of the Northern Vanuatu subgroup (Lynch, Ross, and Crowley 2002) spoken on Malo, a small island just south of the country’s largest: Santo. Tamambo is currently the only language of the island, another dialect (Tamapo) being almost extinct. Use of Tamambo is still strong, particularly on the western side of the island where it originated, and it is also spoken by sizable “off-island” communities in Vanuatu’s main towns of Luganville and Port Vila. Jauncey estimates that there are currently approximately 3,600 speakers (a rising number). Like many Vanuatu languages, however, Tamambo is being impacted by widespread use of the country’s lingua franca and national language Bislama (an English lexifier-creole).

Jauncey’s grammar marks the first substantial documentation of Tamambo. Previously, only a few short wordlists and brief grammatical sketches (for example, Macdonald 1891, Tryon 1976), as well as religious materials (for example, Landels 1897, Sykes 1955), were available. Jauncey’s grammar, as well as her online Tamambo dictionary, are the product of almost 20 years of research, multiple fieldtrips, and data-collection with a vast range of speakers in Malo as well as elsewhere in Vanuatu and abroad. Jauncey’s extensive knowledge of the language, the place, and the people give this grammar a unique value. She is not only able to provide a rich grammatical description but also to offer insight on change within the linguistic community over these years, differences across age groups and populations (on and off island), and Tamambo’s evolving relationship with Bislama. The grammar is well written, with clear descriptions of grammatical features. Even those who may take issue with some of her proposals will no doubt find a great deal of value.

The book is organized into fourteen chapters and also includes several glossed texts in an appendix. Chapter 1 provides a thorough overview of the language and linguistic community, past and present, as well as discussion of previous scholarship on Tamambo, Malo Island, and other languages of the area. This is followed by the presentation of grammatical features in chapters 2–14.

Chapter 2 provides an overview of the phonology.1 Jauncey posits a phonemic inventory of 16 consonants and five simple vowels. Providing correspondences between Proto-Oceanic (POc) and Tamambo, she illustrates a “strong correspondence” (24) between the two. Her proposed inventory of consonants is arguably too conservative and probably best represents the speech of only the oldest speakers. Based upon Riehl’s (2008) research as well as Jauncey’s discussion in the chapter, the bilabial fricatives /β, βʷ / are, for the [End Page 277] majority of speakers, [w, v] in all contexts; the palatal stop /ɟ/ is consistently an affricate with variable voicing [ⁿʤ] or [tʃ].

Tamambo, like a number of other Oceanic languages, has a contrast between plain and additionally labialized bilabials (mb vs. mbʷ, m vs. mʷ, β vs. βʷ). The latter sounds (also referred to as “labiovelar”) have clear lip rounding in Tamambo, whereas in other Oceanic languages the contrast may primarily manifest in quality of the following vowel without apparent rounding (see Lynch 2002 for discussion). This contrast is, however, being lost for speakers below the age of 40 (as it is in other Vanuatu languages, such as those of southwest Malakula). The segment /x/ is notable for considerable variation in its phonetic realization [ɣ, h, g, kʰ], both due to phonological conditioning and sociophonetic factors. Regarding vowels, the five simple segments /i, u, e, o, a/ can occur in sequences of up to four. Jauncey provides a nice description of vowel phenomena, including restrictions on sequences, contexts for vowel deletion, and phonetic realization in the context of stress. With clear explanations and plentiful examples, there is a great deal of useful data.

In addition to the segmental descriptions, discussions of consonant cooccurrence, syllable structure ([C]V[N]), and stress, Jauncey includes sections on the structure of grammatical and phonological words and intonation...


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