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  • Grammar of the Lihir language of New Ireland, Papua New Guinea by Karl Neuhaus
  • Joel Bradshaw
Karl Neuhaus. 2015. Grammar of the Lihir language of New Ireland, Papua New Guinea. Translated and edited by Simon Ziegler. Boroko: Institute of Papua New Guinea Studies. lii + 227 pp. ISBN 978-998-06-8104-1. Kina 20.00, softcover.

The Lihir language community has the mixed blessing of a large-scale gold mining operation on its main island of Aniolam (< aart’ + nua ‘island’ + lam ‘large’) off New Ireland in Papua New Guinea. This has brought many changes to their island lifestyles, but also given them greater resources to devote to documenting and preserving older traditions. Fortunately, Karl Neuhaus (N), a German missionary long resident among the Lihir people, left them another “gold mine” of a different type, a manuscript grammar of their language from 1935, which was reproduced on microfilm by the Anthropos Institute in 1954, and has now been translated into English by Simon Ziegler, with support from the Lihir Cultural Heritage Association. Newcrest Mining Limited’s Lihir Sustainable Development Plan paid for the printing and distribution of the resulting book, which is enhanced by black and white photographs from the 1930s and a color insert of recent photographs.

The substantial front matter (i–lii) includes five essays: by Nicholas Bainton, Newcrest’s manager of sustainable development and environment in Lihir, on the socio-historical context of the Lihir language; by Malcolm Ross, emeritus professor of linguistics at the Australian National University, on the position of Lihir within the Austronesian language family; by Luke Kabariu, a founding member of the Lihir Cultural Heritage Association, on what the translation means to the Lihirian people; by Don Niles, acting director of the Institute of Papua New Guinea Studies, on the Institute’s role as publisher of the book; and by Simon Ziegler (Z) on translating and editing Neuhaus’s work.

Z’s translation remains as faithful to the original as possible, preserving N’s often quirky and inconsistent orthography, terminology, and comparative notes. N’s original handwritten annotations to the original typescript are reproduced in footnotes. Z also follows the style of N’s era by not providing morpheme glosses, only free translations, and by providing no bold subheads for each of the 297 numbered sections. However, Z did update the style of N’s reference citations and improve N’s formatting and notational conventions. Z also adds a glossary of names and terms (215–20) and a reference list that includes the many old sources Z cites (221–27).

Lihir distinguishes seven vowel heights, but N only wrote five (a, e, i, o, u) with inconsistent diacritics to distinguish long from short variants. (There is also a rare ï that represents a sound intermediate between i and u.) The current orthography distinguishes the two sets of mid vowels by writing /e/ as ee, /o/ as oo, /ɛ/ as e, and /ɔ/ as o. Medial voiced obstruents (b, d, g) are predictably prenasalized, so the current orthography omits writing their nasal onsets, but N writes the same phonemes as mb, nd, ŋg. N also uses both z and ts inconsistently to represent the affricate now written ts (although the z is preserved in several place names, such as Zuen.)

N begins his grammar with a short linguistic geography (3–7) and then a most unusual presentation of what various linguistic expressions reveal about the culture (9–29). After noting, “Later on, the grammar is to be supplemented by an ethnographic [End Page 690] monograph,” he begins, “The native is above all concerned with care of his family, relatives, tasks, merrymaking, love, acquisition of shell money, and the dead” (9)—hardly a very distinctive set of priorities. Sprinkled among N’s examples of Lihir idioms used in such unsurprising social functions as allegory, euphemism, jest, metaphor, and mockery are a few examples of usage that are much less universal, such as using the same word for a resource and its usable derivative, as with ye ‘tree, wood’, tes ‘sea, saltwater’, kuil ‘body, skin’, and bual ‘pig, pork’ (25); generating numerals from digits 1–5, plus liem ‘five, hand’ and ziktun ‘twenty, person’ (26); and avoiding...


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