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  • Dupaningan Agta: Grammar, vocabulary, and texts by Laura C. Robinson
  • Jason William Lobel
Laura C. Robinson. 2011. Dupaningan Agta: Grammar, vocabulary, and texts. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics 635. xiii + 320 pp. ISBN 978-0-858-83646-4. $Aust 88.00 (Australia), $Aust. 80.00 (elsewhere), paper.

The Dupaningan Agta are one of approximately thirty Black Filipino or “Negrito” Filipino ethnolinguistic groups known to still exist in the Philippines. While the languages of these Black Filipino groups do not form a single cohesive linguistic subgroup, they are nonetheless of interest to linguists and anthropologists, since their speakers are the descendants of groups whose presence in the Philippine islands is widely believed to predate the arrival of ethnic Austronesian groups by tens of thousands of years (Blust 2013:8). Unfortunately, outside of anthropological and religious circles, the vast majority of these groups, and their languages, have inexplicably attracted scant attention.

Book-length publications on Black Filipino languages, such as Healey (1960) or Headland and Headland (1974), are few and far between. Even areal surveys, such as Zorc (1977) for the Visayan Islands and McFarland (1974) for the Bikol Peninsula, failed to include any of the half-dozen Black Filipino languages in those two areas combined. The little other descriptive work that has been published on these languages has almost exclusively been in the form of relatively short articles on languages like Ati (Pennoyer 1986–87), Arta (Reid 1989), Alta (Reid 1991), Umiray Dumaget (Himes 2002), Manide (Lobel 2010), Inagta Alabat (Lobel 2013), and the Ayta languages (Himes 2012).1 It is in this context that Laura Robinson’s Dupaningan Agta: Grammar, vocabulary, and texts appears, one of the very few book-length descriptions of a Black Filipino language, and the first to appear in the twenty-first century.

Linguistically, Dupaningan Agta is a Philippine language of the Northeastern Luzon (NELUZ) subgroup spoken at the far northeastern tip of the large northern Philippine island of Luzon. Robinson estimates that there are between 1,400 and 1,500 speakers of the language at present, a number that is sure to decline in the coming years for reasons only some of which are touched upon in the introduction to this monograph. Besides the issues of language endangerment affecting perhaps 90 percent of the languages on our planet, there are also somewhat unique issues of ethnic endangerment facing the black-skinned minorities of the Philippines (cf. Garvan 1963, Rai 1982, Eder 1987, Headland and Headland 1999, Headland 2002, Goda 2003, Headland 2003, Robinson and Robinson 2013, Lobel 2013), where sadly the brown-skinned ethnic-Austronesian majority generally have little regard for them.

Robinson’s monograph is a slight revision of her 2008 University of Hawai‘i dissertation with the same title, and marks one of the first published works on a Philippine minority language since the resurgence of interest in language documentation and preservation over the past decade.2 The data on which this work is based were collected by the author during the year that she spent as a single female in the Philippines in 2006, alternating [End Page 198] between periods of living among the Agta themselves in a lean-to, and living in slightly more modern accommodations in the town center.3 Robinson’s perspective on the linguistic situation of Dupaningan Agta was further enriched by two trips away from her primary fieldwork area: the first, by boat, traveling down the northeastern coast of Luzon to survey the dialect geography of the language, and a second, by land, traveling up the eastern coast of northern Luzon, to survey the Black Filipino languages that have been linked by one or more authors with Dupaningan Agta: Umiray Dumaget, Northern Alta, Casiguran Agta (Cas, also known as Casiguran Dumagat), Nagtipunan Agta, Dinapigue Agta, Pahanan Agta (Pah), Paranan (Par), and Kasiguranin (Kas), all of which are spoken by Black Filipino populations except the last two. The first trip ensured that Robinson’s study of Dupaningan Agta would not be confined to only one particular variety of the language; the second allowed her to analyze the target language with a significant degree of appreciation of other closely related languages (only one of which...


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