A grammar of Nakkara

A grammar of Nakkara (Central Arnhem Land coast). By Bronwyn Eather. Munich: LINCOM Europa, 2011. Pp. xvi, 498. ISBN 9783862881536. $103.80.

Reviewed by Michael W. Morgan, National Federation of the Deaf Nepal

Nakkara (Na-Kara in the newer orthography) is an endangered non-Pama Nyungan language spoken on the Central Arnhem Land coast of Australia’s Northern Territory. The structure of Nakkara differs in many ways from more familiar Australian languages, lacking ergative structure (and indeed any nominal case marking) and possessing masculine and feminine gender instead of a system of noun classes. In fact, Nakkara differs remarkably even from other languages in the area, with the sole exception of the closely related language Ndjébbana. Aside from stress patterns (Nakkara’s stress is regular and predictable) and lexical items, Nakkara and Ndjébbana generally agree in their structures.

This book is indeed an excellent reference grammar. A chapter introducing the language and its speakers (1–9) also summarizes the most exceptional features of the language. The body of the grammar starts with a chapter on phonology (10–79), including discussions of the status of geminates and long stops (in Nakkara, true geminates occur only in morpheme-medial position); stress, phonological, and morphophonological rules (and their relative ordering); and the orthography used in this book.

The next five chapters concern morphology. ‘Morphological preliminaries’ (80-–95) gives a brief overview of morphology and word classes. ‘Noun morphology’ (96–160) discusses the pronoun and noun-prefix systems, both involving an extensive system of four persons, three numbers, and two gender categories, with three separate forms (attributive, characteristic, and locational) for third-person minimal noun prefixes. Noun suffixes (possessive, ablative, proximal) and the locative/instrumental postposition are also discussed.

‘Verb morphology’ (161–211) and ‘Verb-stem morphology’ (212–65) present verb morphology. The verb complex consists basically of a personal prefix plus root plus tense suffix. The personal prefix system is as discussed above but with separate realis and irrealis systems. On transitive verbs, both agent and patient are marked, resulting in complex combined paradigms. Nakkara (and neighboring Ndjébbana) are unique in having an oblique agentive suffix when the agent is third-person minimal and the patient is non-third-person. The tense system includes future, non-future contemporary, and non-future pre-contemporary (reasons for not calling the latter two tenses present and past are given in the text). Verb stems belong to ten conjugation classes (seventeen if we include sub-classes), and there are separate root increments for transitive and intransitive monosyllabic roots added under certain conditions. Additionally, there are a number of affixes (orientational, reflexive/reciprocal, and inchoative) and a nominalizing prefix.

The chapter, ‘Minor word classes’ (266–365), discusses spatiotemporal qualifiers; interrogatives and indefinites; connective, mood, and other particles; and adjuncts. The length of this chapter is motivated by the large number of particles and adjuncts discussed.

The final chapter, ‘Clause structure’ (366–438), discusses the various types of simple and complex clause types. Notable is the apparent lack of subordinate (as opposed to co-subordinate) clauses. The book ends with several texts (439–90) and a bibliography (491–98). No topical (or other) index is provided.