A grammar of Vaeakau-Taumako

A grammar of Vaeakau-Taumako. By Åshild Næss and Even Hovdhaugen. Munich: De Gruyter Mouton, 2011. Pp. xix, 519. ISBN 9783110238266. $196 (Hb).

Reviewed by Peter Freeouf, Chiang Mai University

Vaeakau-Taumako (V-T), also commonly cited as Pileni in the literature, is an outlier Polynesian language spoken in the eastern Solomon Islands by somewhat fewer than 1,700 people spread over two small low-lying island chains. Although V-T is the principal everyday language of its speakers and is still being learned by children, it is considered an endangered language due to the small number of speakers and the increasing role of English and Solomon Islands Pijin, the national lingua franca of the Solomon Islands.

V-T is interesting as a Polynesian language for several reasons. Unusual for Polynesian languages, V-T has developed voiced oral stops as well as aspirated nasal stops and an aspirated liquid, contrasting with the more typologically usual non-aspirated nasals and liquid. The labial and dental oral stops display a three-way contrast: unvoiced unaspirated, unvoiced aspirated, and voiced. The velar oral stops have only a two-way contrast: unvoiced versus voiced. V-T has the largest consonant inventory of the Polynesian group, with nineteen consonant phonemes and comparatively numerous word-initial clusters. There are the five basic vowels /i, e, a, o, u/, but there is a restricted contrast for vowel length. The subject-verb-object basic word order of V-T is rare among Polynesian languages.

This grammar is organized into eighteen chapters, covering all aspects of the language, from historical and social setting and stylistic and dialect variation, through phonology, morphology, syntax, and discourse structure. The geographical, social, and historical setting of the language is described in some detail in Ch. 1., and phonology and orthographic representation are discussed in Ch. 2. Ch. 3, ‘Word classes’, is a helpful overview of the open and closed classes, with a discussion of the difficulty distinguishing such categories. Reduplication is the topic of Ch. 4.

Ch. 5, ‘Deictics’, includes personal and possessive pronouns, demonstratives, deictic adverbs, and directionals. The next two chapters deal with nominal morphology and noun phrases. Chs. 8 and 9 discuss verbs and verb phrases. Ch. 10 is devoted to prepositions, and Ch.11 covers modifiers. Ch. 12 treats tense, aspect, and mood. Chs. 13–17 cover the following topics, respectively: simple clauses, complex clauses, serial verbs and related constructions, negations and questions, and coordination and conjunctions. Discourse organization is the focus of Ch. 18. Most chapters begin with a short introduction, which discusses definitional and descriptive issues of the topic of the chapter.

There are two appendices. Appendix 1 (461–99) contains four texts, glossed and translated, with one text each from the three main dialect areas and one from a rather isolated small community. Appendix 2 (500–02) is a list of grammatical morphemes, with the function and chapter reference for each. A wide-ranging bibliography and index conclude the book.

This grammar is written in a comprehensible and easily accessible language employing the descriptive and analytic resources of basic linguistic theory. This work is a valuable contribution to Austronesian and Polynesian linguistics, with much to offer not only to specialists in these areas but also to typologists and others interested in the peoples and cultures of the Pacific.