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  • Sivisa Titan: Sketch grammar, texts, vocabulary based on material collected by P. Josef Meier and Po Minis by Claire Bowern
  • Joel Bradshaw
Claire Bowern. 2011. Sivisa Titan: Sketch grammar, texts, vocabulary based on material collected by P. Josef Meier and Po Minis. Oceanic Linguistics Special Publication No. 38. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, xxii + 466 pp. ISBN 978-082-48-3553-8. $40.00, paper.

During the early 1900s, a German missionary, P. Josef Meier, published a series of myths and stories from a language he called “Manus” in the journal Anthropos. The materials were collected by Po Minis from Sivisa Island and standardized to reflect his dialect of the eastern Admiralties language now called Titan—also known as Manus tru ‘real Manus’ to distinguish it from all the other languages spoken in what is now Manus Province, Papua New Guinea. However, Meier provided no linguistic analysis beyond a short wordlist and literal German glosses for each word in the texts. Bowern (B) has now greatly enriched our understanding of this 18,500-word corpus by publishing a three-part volume in English containing a sketch grammar (1–154), Titan–English and English–Titan wordlists (155–209), and the full texts with both morpheme glosses and free translations (213–448). Titan now joins Loniu (Hamel 1994) as one of the most accessibly documented languages of the Admiralties. Nothing comparable has yet been published on any of the languages of the Western Manus or Southeastern Islands subgroups.

Manus people have been studied over many decades by prominent German and anglophone anthropologists, the latter including Reo Fortune, Margaret Mead, and Theodore Schwartz, who left lots of unpublished Titan language material. B often references such material, but chose to base her description on Meier’s large and consistent corpus, rather than try to reconcile the wealth of conflicting dialectal and notational variations in the fieldnotes and manuscripts of multiple researchers. Nor did B have any direct access to any speakers of Titan (although she was able to check some of the more questionable items in Meier’s work). A written corpus is especially valuable for investigating patterns of syntax and discourse, but much less helpful for resolving ambiguities in phonology and morphology, which often require elicitation of paradigmatic contrasts. B thus depends more heavily on the work of others in the phonology chapter, and refrains almost everywhere from inserting internal boundaries into morphologically complex Titan words, even though she does insert them into the English glosses.

Because her primary sources occur in writing, B can only present an “inferred inventory” of Titan consonantal phonemes (13), partly on the basis of sources on other Manus languages, which have similar inventories. For instance, the presence of velarized labials /pw/, /mw/ is inferred from Meier’s practice of writing po + vowel and mo + vowel in forms whose cognates more recent linguists have transcribed as velarized bilabials. (Several early German sources that I have consulted, including Dempwolff, seem to regard “labialized labials” as a logical impossibility, and, therefore, write [End Page 187] rounding by means of a round vowel [usually -o-] after labials, while reserving -w- to mark labialized velars.)

Meier had noted “that there is no voicing contrast in stops” (13), and he wrote stops with the voiceless counterparts (p, t, k), allowing B to substitute b and d for the prenasalized voiced trills, which Meier had rendered as mb and ndr (17). But these solutions may oversimplify voicing distinctions. The latest reference that B cites dates from 2006, narrowly missing Blust’s (2007) article covering prenasalized trills in a much wider context. Blust concludes that the Proto-Manus bilabial trill “*br emerged as an allophone of *b before *u” (2007:306). B mentions no conditioning that might affect Titan b, but all of the words beginning with b- in her Titan–English glossary actually start with bu-: from bua to butut (160–61). What do the allophones of /b/ sound like in other environments? B’s written corpus is insufficient to answer this question.

Supplemental elicitation is also needed to document classifier morphology in Titan. Languages in the Admiralties, like those in Micronesia, are known for a proliferation of numeral...


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