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  • Insular Toponymies: Place-naming on Norfolk Island, South Pacific and Dudley Peninsula, Kangaroo Island by Joshua Nash
  • Gary Holton
Joshua Nash. 2013. Insular Toponymies: Place-naming on Norfolk Island, South Pacific and Dudley Peninsula, Kangaroo Island. Culture and Language Use, vol. 9. xiv + 302 pp. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing. ISBN 978-902-72-0292-5/978-902-72-7187-7. $149 hardcover/e-book.

With this book, Nash (N) provides the first detailed study of Norfolk Island place naming. Norfolk has a storied history in the annals of the Pacific. The island was originally settled in the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries by Polynesians, who survived for several generations before abandoning the island or dying out (Anderson and White 2001). This was followed centuries later by two periods of European settlement of the island as a penal colony, 1788–1814 and 1824–1855. Following the closure of the second convict settlement, the island was settled in 1856 by migrants from Pitcairn Island, which itself had been settled in 1790 by the infamous HMS Bounty mutineers. The Pitcairn Islanders brought with them the Pitkern language, an English-lexified creole that developed on Pitcairn in the generations following the mutiny. Some of these migrants soon returned to Pitcairn, where their descendants continue to speak Pitkern. Subsequently, the variety spoken on Norfolk, known as Norf’k, continued to develop independently and was additionally influenced by Australian English. The unique linguistic features of Pitkern-Norf’k (ISO 639-3 pih) can be traced to (i) the languages spoken by the original mutineers, particularly Edward Young, a speaker of St. Kitts creole (ISO 639-3 aig) and one of only two mutineers to survive the bloodshed of the first few years on Pitcairn (Baker and Huber 2001:186); and (ii) Tahitian, spoken by the 19 Polynesians who accompanied the mutineers. Today, the language is highly endangered, with approximately 800 remaining speakers (Mühlhäusler 2013).

As the title suggests, a central thesis of the book is that there is something special or unique about place-naming in island environments, leading N to suggest “the possibility of island toponymy as a sub-discipline of toponymy” (32). In islands, N seeks examples of places that were “linguistically pristine prior to inhabitation” (7). He distinguishes this sense of pristine from that proposed by Ross (1958), who used the term for situations in which toponymic histories are known by all speakers. In contrast, for N, “pristine” includes also toponyms with opaque histories that are nevertheless embedded in the environment, in the sense that they are recognized as endonymic.

In proposing an insular toponymy that studies pristine naming, N subscribes to the islands-as-laboratories approach popular among early scholars of the Pacific; however, there is no reason to suspect a one-to-one correspondence between island environments and pristine toponymy. There are many islands on which place-naming is not pristine: witness English naming in the Hawaiian Islands, which is layered over preexisting Hawaiian names. Likewise, there are many examples of pristine place-naming outside of island environments, as evidenced by Athabascan place names across northern Alaska, which show no evidence of a preexisting substrate. Nonetheless, in the particular case of Norfolk, N’s approach is valid, since Norfolk presents a clear case of pristine naming. [End Page 307]

A revised version of N’s (2001) University of Adelaide PhD thesis, the text itself consists of just 123 pages plus eight pages of references. The bulk of the volume is taken up by appendices containing place-name lists for Norfolk Island (1045 names) and Dudley Peninsula (232 names). The Norfolk Island list consists of seven fields: number; name; feature type (for example, topographic, fishing ground, house, and so on); island (Norfolk, Phillip, or Nepean); source; notes; and source type (primary or secondary). The notes field combines both the notes and history fields used in the place-name lists in N’s dissertation and includes an eclectic range of information indicating, for example, precise location of the named place; a more detailed description of the place; the owner of the place; history of the place; or the observer’s impressions. Some of the notes consist of comments by speakers...


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