- A Prehistory of Western North America: The Impact of Uto-Aztecan Languages by David Leedom Shaul
Few linguists have amassed the breadth of expertise in the languages of the American Southwest that David Shaul has. He is especially adept at analyzing and describing the languages found in Spanish and English manuscripts and we owe much of our modern understanding of extinct languages such as Esselen, Eudeve, Opata, and Jova (as well as others) to his expertise. He has also worked with modern languages such as Yaqui, Hopi, O’odham, and Shoshoni, to name a few, and expanded our knowledge of them. Few scholars would be in a position to attempt the synthesis and description contained in this volume.
The overall purpose of the volume is twofold: to demonstrate how linguistic evidence (called “artifacts” by Shaul) can be used in tandem with archaeological, biological, and ethnohistorical evidence to describe Western North American prehistory; and to demonstrate that the homeland of the Uto-Aztecan language family was, at least partially, in the San Joaquin Valley of California. The book contains twelve chapters and an appendix.
Chapter 1, “Who’s Chasing the Uto-Aztecans?,” is a brief introduction to the Uto-Aztecan family and its place within Native America as well as an overview of its comparative linguistics. The comparative overview is clearly oriented to nonlinguists and does an adequate job of preparing the reader for what follows. The chapter ends with an overview of the nature of “stocks” in Native North American classification. Shaul is fairly conservative in his approach to the topic.
Chapter 2, “Meet the Uto-Aztecan Language Family,” is a detailed overview of Uto-Aztecan, including the various proposals for subgrouping, homeland proposals, borrowing, areal features, and other matters. Shaul begins to lay the groundwork in this chapter for placing the Uto-Aztecan homeland in an area extending from the San Joaquin Valley of California into the western Great Basin.
Chapter 3, “The Linguistic Artifact,” is an overview of the effects of sociolinguistics and modularity in language change and their relevance for using linguistic artifacts in historical studies.
Chapter 4, “‘Numic Spread Sure Goes Good with Whitey Bread’,” contains Shaul’s argumentation against a recent uniform spread of Numic languages northward and eastward through the Great Basin from the southwest corner. Shaul’s argument is based on archaeological disputes on cultural continuity in different parts of the Great Basin as well as proposed loanwords between Numic languages and their neighbors.
Chapter 5, “The American Southwest and Uto-Aztecan,” is a detailed summary of archaeological, linguistic, and ethnohistorical evidence for the locations and migrations of the Puebloan tribes of New Mexico and Arizona (which include the Uto-Aztecan Hopi). Shaul has accumulated a wealth of data into a sometimes dense, but generally fluid narrative tying the disparate groups together into a cultural whole.
Chapter 6, “Southern Arizona, the Tepiman Corridor, and Mesoamerica,” deals with the remaining Uto-Aztecan groups from southern Arizona to central Mexico. Its level of detail is not as great as that of other chapters dealing with the American Southwest. [End Page 218]
Chapter 7, “Old California Uto-Aztecan,” is a thorough look at the interaction between the languages of California, within and surrounding the San Joaquin Valley, and Uto-Aztecan. It is well-exemplified and convincing (at least to this reviewer) that Proto—Uto-Aztecan was a major part of the southern San Joaquin Valley.
Chapter 8, “Uto-Aztecan and the Spread of Corn Agriculture,” is a well-documented argument against the recent theory that corn agriculture originated in a Proto—Uto-Aztecan homeland in Mesoamerica and then spread northward together with Uto-Aztecan languages.
Chapter 9, “Can Proto—Uto-Aztecan Culture Be Reconstructed?,” looks at a selection of cultural features where reconstructed lexicon and grammar can lead to cultural insights about the Proto—Uto-Aztecan world. Included are a selection of physical artifacts, kinship, color terms, flowers, and verbs for ‘die’.
Chapter 10, “A Rejoinder: Comparative Tepiman Mythology and Beyond,” is a...