- Mato grammar sketch by Scot F. Stober
Mato is an Oceanic language spoken, in two dialects, by approximately 700 people in Morobe Province, Papua New Guinea. It is a member of the Ngero-Vitiaz family within Western Oceanic. Apart from a brief treatment of Mato phonology (Stober 2005), the grammar under review is the only published analytic information on the language. It is based on data from the Tabares dialect.
The structure of the grammar follows the outline of the language descriptions in Lynch, Ross, and Crowley (2002). After the introductory chapter, there are chapters on phonology, nouns and noun phrases, verbs and verb phrases, clause structure, imperative and interrogative sentences, and complex sentences. These are followed by a chapter on idioms, an appendix with two traditional texts, and references.
In chapter 1, there is a useful typological profile of Mato, in which Stober divides selected characteristics of the language into those that he sees as typical of Oceanic languages and those that he sees as less typical. The former set includes, among others, a relatively simple phonology, basic SVO constituent order, and verb serialization. The latter set includes, among others, lack of distinction between direct and indirect attributive possessive constructions, an existential-copular verb, and a reduced, nondecimal numeral system.
Mato has 16 consonant phonemes (including two approximants). Closed syllables are permitted, but only five of the consonants occur syllable-finally: two bilabials /p m/, two velars /k ŋ/, and one glottal /ʔ/. None of the six alveolar consonants can be syllable-final. There is a detailed discussion of the morphophonemics, which involves insertion and deletion of segments, feature spreading (assimilation) affecting the vowels in a subject prefix, and degemination of sequences of vowels arising as a result of morphological processes.
Stress is predictable. Judging by some of the examples given, Mato has primary and secondary stress, although there is no discussion of that in the text.
Mato has a four-way number distinction in the independent personal pronouns: singular, dual, trial, and plural. There are three sets of affixed pronominal forms: possessive suffixes on nouns, and subject prefixes and object suffixes on verbs. All three affixing sets make only a binary singular-plural distinction.
The numeral system of Mato has only three numerals, corresponding to ‘one’, ‘two’, and ‘three’. (‘Three’ can also be expressed using ‘two’: ‘two part-3sg.poss’.) Higher numerals are formed using the words for ‘two’, ‘part’, and ‘hand’, but the values of seven, eight, and nine are usually expressed by means of Tok Pisin numerals, and values above 10 are expressed by borrowings from Tok Pisin. It is not clear why Tok Pisin expressions for values above 10 are considered borrowings, while those for seven, eight, and nine are not.
There are two articles in the language. One of them, tela non-specific, follows the head noun. It is said to be used when “new information is being introduced to the discourse” (37). On p. 123, tela is called “the indefinite marker,” which would appear to be [End Page 536] a better label, given its function. Interestingly, it is also used with the shorter form of the word for ‘who?’ (123). This would merit some discussion: what does it tell us about the function of tela? The other article is a suffix on nouns: “specification is achieved by suffixation of -a spec, or one of its allomorphs” (38). Unfortunately, we are not told what is meant by “specification,” and numerous examples containing this article throughout the grammar do not make it clear what its function is. To complicate matters further, examples (25) and (26) on p. 64 are said to contrast “specified and non-specified objects.” They contain neither tela nor -a. It appears that the term “specified objects” here designates lexical objects, and that the term “non-specified objects” here designates objects expressed by means of suffixes on verbs. And in example (54) on p. 139, tela is glossed spec, instead of...