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  • A grammar of Balantak: A language of Eastern Sulawesi by René van den Berg and Robert L. Busenitz
  • Alexander Adelaar
René van den Berg and Robert L. Busenitz. 2012. A grammar of Balantak: A language of Eastern Sulawesi. SIL eBook 40. Digital Resources SIL International. xx + 305 pp., maps, tables, figures, pictures reference list, index. ISBN 978-1-55671-295-0; ISSN 1934-2470.

Balantak is an Austronesian language of Indonesia. It belongs to the Saluan-Banggai (or Loinang) subgroup of the Eastern Celebic language group within Malayo-Polynesian. It is spoken by the Balantak people, who number about 30,000 and live on Sulawesi Island in the Balantak, South Balantak, Masam, and Lawala districts of Kabupaten Banggai (Banggai Regency), Central Sulawesi Province. In the words of the authors, René van den Berg and Robert Busenitz, this grammar is based on “a structural, theory-neutral approach, letting the patterns of Balantak inform [the] description” (xiv).

Chapter 1 contains general information about Balantak and its speech community. It includes information on Balantak social and historical linguistics as well as on Balantak society, culture, means of existence, religion, history, demography, and physical environment.

Chapter 2 deals with phonology. In it we learn primarily about phonotactics, morphophonemics, reduplication, and loanword adaptation, and rather little about the actual phonetic realization of Balantak sounds. This is due to the fact that the Balantak phoneme inventory is fairly straightforward and was already treated extensively in Busenitz and Busenitz (1991). Some of the morphophonemic variation in this chapter is rather noteworthy. For instance, the agent voice prefix mVng- has 20 allomorphs, as do the prefixes nVng- and pVng-, which are paradigmatically related to it (see below). This is the result of two assimilation processes: (i) the final nasal in this prefix becomes homorganic to a following initial stop or s in the verbal stem, or it is expanded with an epenthetic vowel if this stem has an initial sonorant, and (ii) its vowel assimilates to the vowel in the first syllable of the verbal base. Here follow some examples:

  1. (1).

    mang-ala ‘to take, get’ min-sikoop ‘to shovel’
    ming-ili ‘to buy’ mun-tunu ‘to burn’
    meng-keke ‘to dig’ men-deer ‘to spread’
    mam-bala ‘to fence in’ manga-wawau ‘to make’
    mom-popok ‘to cut’ mungu-rudus ‘to pick’

Another case of remarkable allomorphic variation is the second person singular marker -Vm. It basically expresses possessor with nouns and agent with verbs. It also has 20 allomorphs. It shows the following overall variation: -Vm occurs after a final vowel or final vowel + glottal stop, -wVm occurs after a final sequence of like vowels, <V> is infixed before a final consonant (other than glottal stop), and <wV> is infixed before a final consonant (other than glottal stop) which is preceded by a sequence of like vowels. As to its vowel, V assimilates to the vowel of the last syllable of the preceding host. Some examples: [End Page 528]

  1. (2).

    tama ‘father’ tama-am ‘your father’
    kopi ‘coffee’   kopi-im ‘your coffee’
    bau’ ‘pig’   bau’-um ‘your pig’
    orii’ ‘pole, post’   orii’-im ‘your post’
    see ‘odor’   see-wem ‘your odor’
    opuu ‘egg’   opuu-wum ‘your egg’
    sarat ‘foot, leg’   sara<a>t ‘your foot/leg’
    wewer ‘lip’   wewe<e>r ‘your lip’
    piit ‘bicycle’   pii<wi>t ‘your bicycle’
    roon ‘banana leaf’   roo<wo>n ‘your banana leaf’

The same allomorphy applies when -Vm is Agent in Patient-voice verbs, as in the following instances:

  1. (3). suap ‘(burning)’ + -on (+patient voice) + -Vm → suap-o<o>n ‘burned by you’ bako ‘(cutting)’ + -on + -Vm → bako-o<wo>n ‘cut by you’

Chapter 3 is a grammatical overview. Apart from giving information on basic typology, word classes, and word order, it also familiarizes the reader with some grammatical features that will be treated in more detail in subsequent chapters, such as applicatives, and mode and voice. The authors provide a short typological description of Balantak, which I repeat here verbatim (25–26):

In many ways, Balantak is a fairly typical Western Austronesian language …

  1. a. Balantak has three modes: irrealis...