Borrowing: A Pacific perspective

Borrowing: A Pacific perspective. Ed. by Jan Tent and Paul Geraghty. (Pacific linguistics 548.) Canberra: Pacific Linguistics, 2004. Pp. 330. ISBN 0858835320. $71.

Reviewed by Anna Pucilowski, University of Canterbury

Despite the fact that the Pacific region has long been treated as a kind of linguistic laboratory, its languages have not been prominent in the literature on borrowing. This volume addresses a variety of issues of borrowing in the Pacific. Although several of the papers cover borrowing from colonial languages like English and Dutch, others deal with borrowing between Pacific languages, something that is of much interest for the historian because of what it reveals about movements among Pacific people before European contact.

The first paper, by Bruce Biggs, was originally published in 1965. Biggs highlights the complexity of the linguistic history of Rotuman (Fiji) and, indeed, of all Pacific languages. The paper serves as a warning to historical linguists: failure to understand the extent to which one language has borrowed from another may lead to erroneous subgroupings.

Another paper that has been reprinted for this volume is Ross Clark’s paper on ‘necessary’ and ‘unnecessary’ borrowing. He looks at English loanwords in Ifira-Mele (Vanuatu) and concludes that need and cultural contact are inadequate explanations for their incorporation. G. B. Milner’s 1965 paper on initial nasal clusters in Eastern and Western Austronesian has also been included for its continued relevance.

Terry Crowley looks at attitudes toward borrowing among speakers of Pacific languages and concludes that, rather than threatening indigenous languages, borrowings have enriched the languages. His study of Sye (Vanuatu) refutes the claim that many Pacific languages are undergoing major structural change in the direction of English. Robert Early’s paper on periphrasis as a verbal borrowing strategy in Epi languages (Vanuatu) describes such a restructuring that may or may not reflect an imported pattern.

When speakers do perceive a threat to their language, there are alternatives to borrowing, as Ray Harlow shows in his paper on Māori. He observes that, in recent years, speakers have preferred to adapt or extend existing vocabulary rather than borrow from English. Another study of ‘nonborrowing’ is John Lynch’s paper on the influence of the languages of the Loyalty Islands and southern Vanuatu on Bislama, and of German on Samoan. Despite intensive contact between the languages, there has been very little borrowing. Lynch claims that this is due partly to phonological difficulty (in the case of Bislama), but also to social factors.

This volume includes several papers on specific cases of borrowing in the Pacific region, including Paul Geraghty’s paper on borrowed plant names in Fiji and Polynesia, Jim Hollyman’s paper on origin-oriented names in New Caledonia, and Paul Geraghty and Jan Tent’s paper on the influence of Dutch on the languages of the Pacific. Ulrike Mosel looks at how English words are adapted into Samoan, and Wolfgang Sperlich covers borrowing in Niuean.

There are also three papers on borrowing in the languages of Fiji. France Mugler investigates the influence of three Indian languages on Fijian Hindi, Fijian, and Fijian English. Albert J. Schütz covers English borrowings in Fijian, and Jan Tent looks at Fijian English and the source of its loanwords.