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  • New advances in Formosan linguistics eds. by Elizabeth Zeitoun, Stacy F. Teng, and Joy J. Wu
  • Yi-Yang Cheng
Elizabeth Zeitoun, Stacy F. Teng, and Joy J. Wu, eds. 2015. New advances in Formosan linguistics. Canberra: Asia-Pacific Linguistics. xxviii + 558 pp. ISBN 978-1-922185-16-7. Open Access:

Formosan languages have long been known for the unique roles they play in the field of Austronesian linguistics. The diversity displayed at all levels of linguistic structure of the twenty or so languages (Li 2008) presents a fascinating microcosm within the island of Taiwan, contrasting sharply with the rest of the Austronesian language family, the most geographically widespread language family known to linguists. As a festschrift in honor of Lillian M. Huang, who has been a leading figure in Formosan linguistics, New advances in Formosan linguistics represents a crystallization of more than twenty years of contemporary development of the field. As the editors note in the Foreword (xii), Huang can be considered the first person to have regenerated interest in the field by recruiting scholars and students of linguistics in Taiwan. In doing so, she has managed to further advance the work of pioneering scholars that can be traced back to documentation by Dutch missionaries in the seventeenth century, to the work of Japanese scholars during the Japanese colonization of Taiwan, and especially to the efforts made by the founding fathers of contemporary Formosan linguistics—Paul Jen-kuei Li and Shigeru Tsuchida.

This edited volume was first presented to Huang at the Thirteenth International Conference on Austronesian Linguistics held at Academia Sinica, Taipei, right after her keynote speech (A cross-dialectal study of grammaticalization in Atayal). The book's publication symbolizes a significant milestone in the field, as it celebrates a number of first-time achievements. On the one hand, it is the first edited volume that specifically targets Formosan languages. Worth noting here is that nearly all indigenous groups of Taiwan are represented in the linguistic data discussed in the book, covering all 16 officially recognized indigenous groups, and including Yami, the language spoken on Orchid Island that has been categorized as a Philippine language. On the other hand, it is also the first edited volume directed toward issues in Formosan languages that did not derive from a themed workshop or conference. The editors themselves note that a corollary that follows is the wide range of topics included: diachronic and synchronic phonology (4 papers), morphosyntax (10 papers), discourse analysis (1 paper), cross-dialectal comparison (3 papers), and the lexicon (4 papers).

Despite the arrangement of papers based on linguistic subfields, the reader may find that several recurrent themes emerge as common threads that connect the contributors' research. One of the most prominent themes, to begin with, is how Formosan comparative studies can inform different subfields of linguistics, including theories and methodologies. The book starts with two papers that deal with historical linguistics and contact linguistics, respectively. In ch. 1, Malcolm Ross reexamines the reconstruction of certain [End Page 294] Proto-Austronesian phonemes that are still potentially controversial—the coronals—by reassessing his 1992 paradigm, which he mentions is possible mainly because "descriptions of the Formosan languages have improved considerably in recent years" (3). In addition, he proposes two hypotheses in ascribing phonetic values to the Proto-Austrone-sian coronals: a step 1 protoparadigm based on an inferred phonetic value for each proto-phoneme from its reflexes, and a step 2 protoparadigm based on considerations of typological plausibility of the reconstructed paradigm. In ch. 2, Paul Jen-kuei Li considers the existence of preglottalized stops/b/and/d/reported for Tsou, Bunun, and Thao, but not found in any other Formosan languages. A hypothesis is proposed concerning two possible contact scenarios among the three languages: (i) preglottalized stops originated in Tsou, and spread to Bunun and finally to Thao; (ii) Tsou and Bunun developed preglottalized stops independently, and a spread occurred from Bunun to Thao.

The issue of how comparative studies can inform formal theories is addressed in two papers. In ch. 9, Wei-Tien Dylan Tsai investigates a peculiar syntactic phenomenon reported for Atayal, Tgdaya Seediq, and Tsou, namely...


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