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  • The Alor-Pantar languages: History and typology ed. by Marian Klamer
  • Tyler Heston
Marian Klamer, ed. 2014. The Alor-Pantar languages: History and typology. Studies in Diversity Linguistics No. 3. vi + 470 pp. Berlin: Language Science Press. ISBN 978-3-944675-48-0. Digital download, free; hardcover, €60.00.

This book consists of a collection of articles on the historical relationships and typological characteristics of the Alor-Pantar languages, a subgroup of Papuan languages spoken in Eastern Indonesia. The Alor-Pantar (AP) languages and their historical relationships have remained poorly understood until quite recently, and this volume presents a major contribution by bringing together publications by leading experts on them. These results have grown out of the research project “Alor-Pantar languages: Origin and theoretical impact,” funded by the European Science Foundation as part of the EuroBABEL program (2009–2012). This book forms a natural companion to Papuan languages of Timor, Alor and Pantar: Sketch grammars, Volume 1, a collection of eight sketch grammars edited by Antoinette Schapper (2014), which was published in the same year.

After an introduction by the editor, there are three chapters that address historical relationships and six thematic chapters that discuss the expression of kinship (ch. 5), elevation deictics (ch. 6), numeral systems (ch. 7), mathematical operations (ch. 8), grammatical number (ch. 9), and verbal agreement (ch. 10). Each of the six thematic chapters surveys the phenomenon of interest in a number of AP languages (a different sample in each chapter), discussing similarities and differences between the languages surveyed and situating their behavior within a broader typological context. Each thematic chapter also comments on the history of the phenomenon surveyed, though the priority given to reconstruction varies from chapter to chapter. In this review, I discuss the contributions of each chapter, in turn, before concluding with some general remarks.

In ch. 1, “The Alor-Pantar languages: Linguistic context, history and typology,” Marian Klamer presents an excellent introduction to both the volume and the study of the AP languages more generally. She explains that the Alor-Pantar subgroup includes approximately twenty Papuan languages spoken on the eastern Indonesian islands of Alor and Pantar and a few smaller outlying islands, all of which are endangered to one degree or another by the encroachment of Indonesian. The AP languages are related to the Papuan languages of the nearby island of Timor in a larger Timor-Alor-Pantar language family (TAP; see ch. 3), though evidence for more distant historical relationships is weak (see ch. 4). A particularly valuable section of this chapter outlines the documentary methods underlying the presented results and provides a link to an archived corpus (, which at the time of this review includes a number of openly accessible AP language materials.

In ch. 2, “The internal history of the Alor-Pantar language family,” Gary Holton and Laura C. Robinson reconstruct the consonants of Proto-Alor-Pantar (PAP) and present the results of three approaches to subgrouping the AP languages, one based on shared phonological innovations and two based on the application of computational methods to the lexicon. This chapter is based on two earlier publications, Holton et al. (2012), which presents the first reconstruction of the consonants of PAP, and Robinson and Holton (2012), [End Page 311] which applies computational subgrouping methods to the AP family. This chapter is based on an updated dataset, but the conclusions presented remain essentially unchanged from previous work.

Holton and Robinson reconstruct 15 consonants to Proto-Alor-Pantar, based on recurrent sound correspondences in 12 AP languages. Their consonant reconstructions are supported empirically by an appendix of 129 cognate sets (117 of which can be reconstructed to PAP). Unfortunately, some methodological issues remain unresolved from Holton et al. (2012). Holton and Robinson posit a few unconditioned phonemic splits, including a split of noninitial *b to /ɸ/ and /v/ in Teiwa and Nedebang (65), medial *s to /s/ and /tʃ/ in Nedebang (70), and medial *g to /ʔ/ and Ø in Blagar (62). It is also unfortunate that they do not interact with criticisms of their reconstructions raised by Schapper, Huber, and van Engelenhoven in the following chapter, especially...


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