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  • The lexicon of Proto Oceanic: The culture and environment of ancestral Oceanic society ed by Malcolm Ross, Andrew Pawley, and Meredith Osmond
  • Paul Geraghty
Malcolm Ross, Andrew Pawley, and Meredith Osmond, eds. 2011. The lexicon of Proto Oceanic: The culture and environment of ancestral Oceanic society. vol. 4: Animals. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics 621. xxvi + 576 pp. ISBN 978-085-883626-6. $Aust. 132.00 (Australia), $Aust. 120.00 (International), paper.

This volume is the latest in the series resulting from the Australian National University’s monumental undertaking to reconstruct linguistically the society and world of the speakers of Proto-Oceanic (POc), undertaken by the Department of Linguistics, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies. Of the seven proposed volumes, the first, published in 1998, was on material culture, the second, published in 2003, on the physical environment, and the third, published in 2008, on plants. This volume, entitled Animals, should be understood to cover “animals” in the broadest sense of the term (might “fauna” have been less ambiguous?), including fish, aquatic invertebrates, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, insects, and other terrestrial invertebrates. In addition, there are two chapters by Andrew Pawley on special topics—“Stability and change in Oceanic fish names,” and “Were turtles fish in Proto Oceanic?: Semantic reconstruction and change in some terms for animal categories in Oceanic languages”—and finally two appendices (“Data sources and collation” and “Languages”), a list of references, and three indexes (“Index of reconstructions by proto-language,” “Alphabetical index of reconstructions,” and “Index of English and biological terms”). All chapters are authored by one or more of the editors, except for that on birds, which is by Ross Clark.

As we have come to expect from Pacific Linguistics, this is a highly competent piece of work, and an impressive one, too, in many ways, not least in sheer volume—there are over 600 pages, 17 maps, 44 tables, 91 figures (mostly drawings of fish and other natural species), and nearly 500 Proto-Oceanic reconstructions (many more if variants and other levels are considered) based on data from nearly 600 languages (including “dialects”). The work will be useful not only to those interested in the prehistory of the Pacific, and to ichthyologists, zoologists, and ornithologists, but also to linguists looking for data on semantic change, sound change, subgrouping, and so on. Overall, the volume is easy to read and to use, and typographical and other errors are few.

Some may quibble about the arrangement of topics, for instance, that whales and bats are included under mammals, when most (perhaps all?) Oceanic languages class them as “fish” and “birds,” respectively. But the authors explain that it is not certain that Oceanic taxonomies agree on these classifications, and, in any case, the typical reader would probably expect to find the “scientifically” based taxonomy being followed.

Developments in the field since the earlier volumes have led to some changes. One is the inclusion of two new first-order “subgroups” of Oceanic: the Temotu subgroup (Reef Santa Cruz and Utupua and Vanikoro) and the Southern Oceanic linkage (Vanuatu and New Caledonia). Because of the now even more “rake”-like structure of the higher echelons of the Oceanic subgroup—that is, there being many first-order subgroups—the authors have felt the need to guard against a proliferation of reconstructions based on just two of these first-order subgroups. They have, therefore, proposed two [End Page 524] “phantom” subgroups, Remote Oceanic (Southern Oceanic, Micronesian, and Central Pacific) and Eastern Oceanic (Remote Oceanic plus Southeast Solomonic), for which they admit the evidence is very weak, but which are necessary as “convenient hypotheses that allow us to retain rigorous criteria for a POc reconstruction” (13). Hence the criterion for a reconstruction to be recognized as POc is that reflexes occur in at least two of the following: Admiralties (or Yapese or Mussau), Western Oceanic, Temotu, and “Eastern Oceanic,” and that borrowing is not a possible explanation for its distribution; and also, of course, if reflexes are found both in and beyond Oceania.

The authors have not incorporated Blust’s (1998) proposal that Oceanic subgroups at the highest level into Admiralties and non-Admiralties (“Nuclear Oceanic”), but point out...