Abkhaz: A comprehensive self-tutor

Abkhaz: A comprehensive self-tutor. By George Hewitt. (LINCOM student grammars 3.) Munich: LINCOM Europa, 2010. Pp. 332. ISBN 9783895866708. $90.16.

Reviewed by Peter Freeouf, Chiang Mai University

Abkhaz, a member of the North West Caucasian language family, is spoken by around 100,000 speakers, primarily in Abkhazia, a small region on the Black Sea. The noted Caucasian scholar, George Hewitt, has produced what is both a marvelously detailed description and a self-instruction manual of this language.

The book begins with an introductory chapter (9–28) that includes background information on the location and history of the speakers, a summary of the complex segmental phonology and stress patterns, as well as charts displaying the two main Cyrillic scripts and the Georgian-based one used for Abkhaz with their International Phonetic Alphabet equivalents. This section ends with an extensive list of references (25–28).

There follow twenty lessons presenting the complex grammar of Abkhaz. The first two lessons deal with nouns, numerals, pronouns, adjectives, possessives, quantifiers, and expressions of time. The next group of lessons (Lessons 3–13) treats the intricate verbal morphology and the complex incorporation of pronominal agreement markers into verb forms. The morphosyntactic structures of the language are illustrated with numerous sentence examples and clearly-organized charts interspersed throughout each lesson. Lessons 14–17 present syntactic patters with numerous illustrative sentences. Lesson 18 deals with indefinite expressions and other features. Lesson 19 presents miscellaneous nominal, verbal, and adverbial affixes. The final lesson (Lesson 20) consists of texts in the official Cyrillic script accompanied by vocabulary lists.

Each lesson except the last begins with a short outline giving an overview of the grammatical topics to be treated. There are numerous paradigm charts for reference and lists of examples of each grammatical topic in other lessons. There is also an appendix that contains a ‘Supplement on numerals’ (299–301), a summary of the morphology (302–10), and a text in a Roman script proposed by the author (308–09).

For those who use the book to acquire active knowledge of the language, there are exercises with each lesson and a ‘Key to the exercises’ (311–31) concluding the book.  There is unfortunately no comprehensive word list included. While there is no index, the detailed table of contents enables the reader to locate grammatical topics easily enough.

Depending on the reader’s inclinations this admirable textcan serve as a veritable ‘teach yourself Abkhaz’ for self-instruction, a detailed reference grammar, or a source book for Caucasian specialists, comparativists, and typologists. It is a most welcome addition to the growing list of books on Caucasian languages published by this leading linguistics publishing house.