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  • Saisiyat Morphology
  • Daniel Kaufman


Zeitoun, Chu, and kaybaybaw (2015) present an in-depth description of the morphology of the Tungho dialect of Saisiyat, a highly endangered Formosan language spoken in northwest Taiwan.1 According to the publisher's description, the book was motivated by the fact that there were few studies on Saisiyat morphology, despite it being one of the better described Formosan languages, and that Saisiyat's morphological complexity had been overlooked in the past. The book's first author, Elizabeth Zeitoun, is a leading figure in Formosan linguistics who has made many groundbreaking contributions to the description of several Formosan languages. The second author, Tai-hwa Chu, has served as Zeitoun's Saisiyat research assistant over the last two decades; and the third author, Lalo a tahesh kabaybaw, is also a Saisiyat speaker and teacher in the Saisiyat communities of Tungho and Nanchuang. From the outset, it is very encouraging to see the native speaker collaborators who contributed so much of their expertise to the work treated as coauthors, despite the first author having done most or all of the actual writing.

The book constitutes a tremendous contribution to our understanding of Formosan languages and, tragically, the type of research on which the work depends may no longer be possible in another ten to twenty years. While attempts at revitalization are being undertaken, the prognosis offered by the authors is grim; Saisiyat, they write, "will most certainly disappear in the long term" (7).

With regard to the data, most of the examples cited in the book appear to have been elicited by the authors targeting the various points under discussion. While it would have been optimal to include a link or reference to the primary data, this is still a common lacuna in much current descriptive work. The book presents a methodical inventory of morphological paradigms and patterns, and as can be expected in a book of this scope, there are many points that warrant further scrutiny. I highlight these points in the hope that some of the open questions can be revisited while there are still fluent speakers to aid in their resolution. For reasons of space, I only focus on the more difficult analytical aspects of the work, with a cursory review of other areas.

The book is organized into the following chapters:

  1. •. Ch. 1, the introduction, offers a succinct demographic picture of the modern communities, a review of the literature, and a brief background of thirteen of the language [End Page 278] consultants, in addition to setting out the (standard structuralist) descriptive framework to be applied.

  2. •. Ch. 2 presents a sketch of the entire grammar, a welcome addition considering the length of the entire work. The chapter also covers Saisiyat phonology, which presents many challenges of its own.

  3. •. Ch. 3 is an overview of morphological units and morphological processes, covering affixation, cliticization, compounding, and one of the more difficult to describe systems of reduplication in any Formosan language.

  4. •. Ch. 4 examines word classes in Saisiyat, a generally contested area in Austronesian languages. Among lexical categories (excluding purely functional elements), the authors argue for the existence of nouns, verbs, prepositions, adverbs, and numerals as distinct categories in Saisiyat. A practical approach is taken to identifying lexical categories in which morphological and syntactic criteria are combined when necessary.

  5. •. Ch. 5 investigates nouns, nominalizations, pronouns, and demonstratives.

  6. •. Ch.6 examines verbal morphology and is naturally one of the most complex chapters in the book. Fortunately, the chapter opens with a good bird's eye view of the voice, mood, and aspect paradigm, which stands out for some of its unusual features.

  7. •. Ch. 7 examines negation, which is a rather rich area in Saisiyat as mood, aspect, lexical category, and the dynamic/stative distinction are all reflected by the various negative markers. The chapter does an admirable job of sorting out the many different markers and their distribution. Surprisingly, assimilated Chinese loans are discussed here for the first time in the description of negative function words. While there are not many obvious Chinese loans in the cited examples in the rest of the book, negation, for whatever reason, is a functional area that has attracted a considerable...


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pp. 278-293
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