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  • Perspectives on information structure in Austronesian languages ed. by Sonja Riesberg, Asako Shiohara, and Atsuko Utsumi
  • Dejan Matić
Perspectives on information structure in Austronesian languages. Ed. by Sonja Riesberg, Asako Shiohara, and Atsuko Utsumi. (Studies in diversity linguistics 21). Berlin: Language Science, 2018. Pp. iv, 428. ISBN 9783961101092. $56 (Hb).

There has been in the past decade a surge of interest in the investigation of the relationship between discourse and grammar in lesser-known languages, but the number of publications devoted to this topic is still negligible in comparison to those dealing with well-researched national languages. Perspectives on information structure in Austronesian languages, edited by Sonja Riesberg, Asako Shiohara, and Atsuko Utsumi, is a welcome addition to the slowly growing body of literature on the subject.1 The focus is on Western Malayo-Polynesian, with a number of chapters devoted to two ‘big’ languages, Tagalog and different varieties of Malay, but other Austronesian groups are represented as well, including Formosan, Central Malayo-Polynesian, and Oceanic. [End Page 726] The volume is divided into three parts, which focus on three aspects of what is traditionally subsumed under information structure: the form of NPs and reference tracking, the impact of information structure on syntax, and the relationship of information structure and prosody.

The first part consists of four chapters that deal with the influence of such factors as givenness, familiarity, referential persistence, animacy, stance, engagement, and so forth on the selection of the forms of NPs. Rik De Busser’s contribution investigates the mechanisms of establishing referential cohesion in oral narratives and Bible translations in Bunun (Formosan), testing formal (word class), semantic (NP meaning), and discourse-pragmatic parameters (position in the text, relationship with coreferential expressions, etc.). ‘Stance, categorisation, and information structure in Malay’, by František Kratochvíl, Nur Izdihar Binte Ismail, and Diyana Hamzah, is devoted to referent tracking in Singapore Malay, based on the investigation of controlled discourse. There appears to be a split between animate and inanimate referents, such that the former but not the latter can be subject to the so-called strong epistemic stance, which seems to boil down to familiarity. This has repercussions for the ways referents are encoded and tracked in discourse. The only factor that seems to be stronger than stance is the persistence of a referent in subsequent discourse. The following chapter, written by Stefan Schnell, focuses on the meaning and use of demonstratives in Vera’a (Oceanic, Vanuatu). It is argued that the meaning of Vera’a demonstratives cannot be defined along spatial coordinates, such that other, endo- and exophoric, functions are derived from this purported core meaning. Instead, Schnell shows that demonstratives are interactional, in the sense that they are used to manage the attention states of the interlocutors. Their primary meanings are procedural and can be circumscribed as ‘you do not attend to this’ (speaker-oriented demonstratives), ‘you and I attend to this’ (addressee-oriented), and ‘I do not attend to this’ (distal). Major discourse effects derived from these procedural meanings are switch of the focus of attention (speaker-oriented) and maintaining and reinforcing the existing focus of attention (addressee-oriented), while distals are used when joint attention is not relevant. The chapter by Asako Shiohara and Anthony Jukes tackles the use of articles, demonstratives, and possessive NPs to encode different types of referential statuses in the Manado variety of Malay, showing that articles/demonstratives are used for situational and anaphoric reference, while possessive NPs indicate association with the larger shared situation.

Six chapters in the second part of the book deal with the notions of topic, focus, and contrast and their influence on clause syntax in Austronesian, focusing mostly on voice, word order, and left dislocation. In the opening chapter, I Wayan Arka and I Nyomang Sedeng provide a general overview of information-structural phenomena in the Sembiran dialect of Balinese, focusing on NP encoding, word order, and voice. The authors rely on a set of predefined information-structural categories based on different combinations of values for...


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