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  • Africa's endangered languages: Documentary and theoretical approaches ed. by Jason Kandybowicz and Harold Torrence
  • Justin Case
Jason Kandybowicz and Harold Torrence (eds.). 2017. Africa's endangered languages: Documentary and theoretical approaches. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Pp. 530. US $99 (hardcover).

Africa's endangered languages: Documentary and theoretical approaches is an edited collection of articles stemming from a workshop held at the University of Kansas in April 2014. This volume aims to explore the interdependence of linguistic theory and language documentation as practiced by specialists working on endangered languages in Africa. The contributions highlight the fact that the researcher's documentary work informs theoretical generalizations, and vice versa. Two chapters (chapters 7 and 8) mainly advocate community-based approaches on the grounds of their successes in high-quality documentation and revitalization. As is common for proceedings-type volumes, the heterogeneity of the contents and languages under scrutiny makes for a series of superficial treatments of diverse issues. Regardless, the approaches, anecdotes and insights are presented so as to make them broadly applicable and, importantly, not exclusively relevant to linguists working in Africa.

In chapter 1, "Africa's endangered languages: An overview", Kandybowicz and Torrence introduce certain circumstances that distinguish language endangerment in Africa from other areas, for example, shift to other subnational languages, migration [End Page 317] patterns, etc. Additionally, they enumerate various hardships generally faced by linguists in hard-to-reach communities with minimal education and access to resources.

In chapter 2, "The challenge of documenting Africa's least-known languages", Sands demonstrates how to assess the urgency of the need for documentation of languages in Africa. The author's detailed unpacking of authoritative vitality classification systems (Ethnologue and UNESCO) is highly relevant to any (rightly) skeptical linguist. He pays particular attention to labelling ambiguities, such as threatened vs. shifting (or shifted), and dead or extinct vs. dormant (pp. 13–14), while also stressing the need for up-to-date demographic statistics, intergenerational transmission data, and the like. He illustrates these points with various case studies comparing the outdated data of the classifications with up-to-date statistics.

Chapter 3, "The Nata documentation project: An overview" introduces a research project housed at the University of British Columbia, which is centered around both a diverse group of specialists and a speaker-linguist. This chapter is minimally informative given that each of the three subsequent chapters, produced by members of this same project, provides a typological grounding as well as exhaustive appendices and references as to the vitality of Nata as necessary.

Gambarage and Pulleyblank's description, "Tongue root harmony in Nata: An allomorphy-based account" (chapter 4) elaborates upon Archangeli and Pulleyblank (2012, 2015). They conceive of inputs as allomorph sets with defaults and lexical selectional properties (pp. 67–70) to account for certain disharmonies that traditional Optimality Theory fails to capture. By extension, Anghelescu et al. implement the same allomorph-set approach in order to establish a tone-driven typology of nominal stems in "Nominal and verbal tone in Nata: An allomorphy-based account" (chapter 5).

In chapter 6, "Nata deverbal nominalizations", Déchaine et al. detail the morphosyntactic behaviour of so-called type-flexible verbal roots in Nata. The authors analyze this subtle split along the lines of traditional proto-role theory (Dowty 1991), drawing a subdistinction between property- and entity-denoting derived nouns.

The following two chapters focus on the practical application of descriptive models. Childs advocates the Busy Intersections Model (chapter 7), as informed by Practice Engagement Theory. This speaker-centric approach has community members utilize technology and participate in group work to establish a functional degree of literacy in their language and an interest therein. Nash's survey stresses the role of an engaged community in language maintenance (chapter 8). This anecdotal account focuses on orthographic faithfulness, lexicographical accuracy and the maintenance of solid relationships with collaborators.

In chapter 9, "The role of theory in documentation: Intervention effects and missing gaps in the Krachi documentary record", Kandybowicz and Torrence use theory to highlight how the standing descriptive account of the interrogative system of Krachi is incomplete, given that the role of intervening elements in interrogative clauses has been entirely neglected. On these grounds...


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