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Reviewed by:
  • Multi-verb constructions in Eastern Indonesia by Volker Unterladstetter
  • Leah Pappas
Volker Unterladstetter. 2020. Multi-verb constructions in Eastern Indonesia. Studies in Diversity Linguistics 28. Berlin: Language Science Press. 452 pp. ISBN 978-3-96110-216-7, digital. ISBN 978-3-96110-217-4, hardcover. Open Access.

Multi-verb constructions (MVCs) have recently received attention in the literature on multi-verb strings. While some authors such as Nordhoff (2012) find value in keeping the term broad and descriptive, others such as Aikhenvald (2011) and Enfield (2008) seek to specify parameters that define MVCs. Despite the variation in these approaches, usually authors minimally identify MVCs to be verb strings within a single clause with an absence of linking elements between the verbs. MVC has become a popular term because traditionally much of the discussion around multi-verb strings has centered on the more theoretically entrenched term "serial verb construction" (SVC). Issues with the term "SVC" arise when one tries to define what constitutes an SVC; authors tend to vary as to whether to include a broad set of defining parameters or a narrow set of easily identifiable universals (Haspelmath 2016). However, based on the parameters that authors most-commonly adopt, SVCs are viewed as equally inflected verb strings within a single clause and intonation unit that show no signs of coordination, syntactic dependency, nor subordination. Yet, these parameters can sometimes be restrictive and are not always typologically applicable. Thus, the term MVC has been adopted into the serial verb literature by authors who wish to avoid extensive theoretical debates in their grammatical descriptions or by those who seek to include constructions that are clearly not SVCs in their analysis. For the time being, "multi-verb construction" remains a hyperonymic and manipulatable term to describe verb strings.

The book under review provides a comprehensive overview of the semantic, syntactic, and areal features of MVCs in Eastern Indonesia (EI) based on data from sixteen Austronesian and sixteen non-Austronesian languages. Using several types of data—corpus data, published grammars, and glossed texts—the author grapples with a variety of analytical frameworks employed by different authors. In order to objectively approach this data and account for the immense grammatical diversity in EI languages, Unterladstetter adopts the term MVC. As a result, he is able to include a broad corpus of multi-verb strings which is not constrained by what one may define as "canonical" serial verb constructions. The resulting approach to typologizing MVCs systematizes the interplay between their syntactic and semantic parameters and has the potential for widespread applicability to MVCs anywhere in the world. The book provides several novel contributions including the idea of hierarchized MVCs, the [End Page 243] adoption of Davidsonian semantics and lexical decomposition in the MVC context, and a systematic approach to event analysis in language.

This book consists of seven chapters. It begins with a general introduction (chapter 1), followed by more specific introductions to the languages of EI (chapter 2) and the literature around SVCs and MVCs (chapter 3). These reviews are followed by a description of the grammatical (chapter 4) and semantic (chapter 5) properties of MVCs in EI which are then combined to describe the various types of MVC constructions in the region (chapter 6). Finally, Unterladstetter concludes with a discussion that summarizes the contents of the book and identifies its broader implications and avenues for future research (chapter 7).

Chapter 1 establishes the scope of the book and provides the background information necessary for any reader to understand the content. This chapter further introduces the broad goals of the book while briefly summarizing the material addressed in chapters 2 and 3. In addition to laying out the hypotheses that are investigated throughout the book (repeated below), Unterladstetter preliminarily defends his position to address MVCs rather than SVCs. All topics in chapter 1 are addressed in more detail in the following chapters.

In chapter 1 (p. 15), the author identifies the following to be the primary hypotheses explored throughout the book:

  1. 1. Although the morphosyntactic make-up of MVCs in EI is remarkably similar across different construction types, these MVCs are constructed through different techniques (mentioned below in #H2)

  2. 2. Verbal interaction in...


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pp. 243-249
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