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Reviewed by:
  • Ingush Grammar by Johanna Nichols
  • John Colarusso
Ingush Grammar. Johanna Nichols. University of California Publications in Linguistics 143. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2012. Pp. xviii + 806. $70.00 (paper).

Ingush, spoken in the North Caucasus (a region within the Russian Federation), and among a small diaspora in the European Union and the United States, is a member of the Vai-Nakh subbranch of the Northeast Caucasian (or Nakh-Daghestanian) family, and is closely related to Chechen. Johanna Nichols is the greatest authority on the Vai-Nakh languages of any scholar outside of Russia and this book, as she says, is a life’s work. It draws on a digitized data base, the Berkeley Ingush Corpus. This makes for authenticity, but also for some examples that are complex and difficult to follow. It is fair, indeed necessary, to characterize this work as massive. It covers every aspect of grammar, in most cases using numerous examples to illustrate points.

The purpose of the grammar is twofold: to describe the Ingush language and to promote its maintenance. To this end, Nichols has devised a Latin-based orthography that has enabled her to record certain sound changes not represented by the traditional Cyrillic-based one.

In spirit, the grammar is thoroughly descriptive. There are no rules within it and few efforts to discuss phenomena in an extended way. The material is therefore organized in a topical manner that is informed entirely by various descriptive categories. This has the advantage of freeing the grammar from the ebb and flow of theoretical fads, but [End Page 222] also casts it in a form that often overwhelms the reader with pure data or that hides interesting phenomena (or their absence) in areas where they are coherently placed, certainly, but are also somewhat unexpected.

For example, instead of an analysis of transitivity in terms of syntactic processes, such effects are presented in terms of verbal valence and the case-marking of arguments (chapter 21, pp. 459–98). We are told there (p. 496) that Ingush has neither a passive nor an antipassive (“antiergative” would be better since this language is morphologically ergative). Ambitransitives and other mechanisms seem to fulfill such roles, but we must assume that the database was elicited in such a way as to preclude any oversights in such matters. The reader is left nonetheless with a sense of puzzlement about the evident lack of such familiar processes in a language. This is just one of numerous unusual features that should attract the attention of the curious theoretical linguist or typologist.

The emphasis upon valence and case-marking may have a more profound justification than mere expository style. In “chaining” (a sequence of clauses in which only the last verb bears tense), the noun that controls subject deletion appears to be the one in nominative case (unglossed throughout the book). One can see this in her example (66) (p. 535), given here as (1).

  1. 1. Peat’mat–aa  axcha=’a  danna,    aara–vealar      Muusaa

    Peat’mat-dat  money=&  out-v.go.witnessed.past  Muusaa.nom

    ‘Musa gave money to Peat’mat and left.’

(Nonfinal clauses of the chaining construction are marked by the enclitic =’a, glossed here as ‘&’, and by one of several “converb” suffixes on the verb, in this case the anterior converb [cv.ant] form that denotes that the verb’s action precedes the action coded by the following verb. The glosses dat and nom denote dative and nominative case forms; d and v mark gender agreement of verbs with nominative arguments [see below].) Example (1) is a chaining of two phrases, something like that in (2).

  1. 2. Muusaa–z  Peat’mat–aa  axcha    danna    —Muusaa  aara–vealar

    M-erg    P-dat    money.nom — M.nom  out-v.go.wp

One might have expected the left-hand ergative subject (Muusaa–z, with choice of ergative suffix uncertain) to control deletion of the following nominative subject (Muusaa) once the two were joined, subject to subject control, but this is not the case, as it appears that (3) would be unacceptable.

  1. 3. *Muusaa–z Peat’mat–aa axcha=’a danna, ∅ aara–vealar...


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