A grammar of Domari

A grammar of Domari. By Yaron Matras. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton, 2012. (Mouton grammar library 59.) Pp. xvi, 464. ISBN 9783110289145. $210.

Reviewed by Elly van Gelderen, Arizona State University

Domari is an Indo-European language spoken by the (traditionally nomadic) Dom people of the Middle East. Dom is cognate with Rom (i.e. Roma). This book describes the grammar of Domari as spoken in Jerusalem. At the time of Yaron Matras’s fieldwork in the mid- to late 1990s, there were fifty to seventy fluent speakers, but currently there are only ten to twenty speakers (2).

The introductory chapter reviews previous work on varieties of Domari and distinguishes between a northern and southern dialect. One dialect difference involves the third person: (u)hu is typical in northern varieties, whereas pandži occurs in the south. The north shows Kurdish and Persian influence, whereas the south is more influenced by Arabic. The Domari of Jerusalem falls in between these varieties (18). The introduction also outlines the major similarities and differences between Domari and Romani, and describes the Dom community in Jerusalem and the methodology for data collection.

Ch. 2 provides an inventory of sounds and phonemes, assimilatory processes, syllable structure, prosody and stress, and a set of sound changes. Ch. 3 discusses parts of speech and inflection and gives us a sense of M’s theoretical approach, which is to ground parts of speech in a continuum between topical entities and events (70). However, a ‘more practical procedure [to describing parts of speech]…is to follow natural indicators of parts of speech in the way that the language assigns inflectional potential to different types of words’ (71). Thus, there is gender and number marking reminiscent of other Indo-Aryan languages, case, person inflection, and definite and indefinite suffixes. Parts of speech ‘differ in their potential to be assigned one or more inflectional paradigms’ (72) and in how they combine with other elements.

Chs. 4 through 6 cover nouns, nominal inflection, noun modifiers, and pronouns, and Ch. 7 covers verb inflection, modals, and auxiliaries. Ch. 8 discusses grammatical and thematic roles and also spatial relations. Ch. 9 concerns clause structure and various types of clauses, and Ch. 10 focuses on adverbs and particles.

In Domari, subjects are marked through agreement on the verb and can additionally be marked through independent pronouns in contrastive function or when switched. There is a set of object suffixes, also serving as possessives and as subjects with past tense verbs (evidence of an earlier ergative alignment), and there is a set of ‘marginal’ (225) enclitic third-person pronouns that attach to interrogative pronouns and the presentative particle. The third-person pandži is used in Domari as third-person singular (pandžan is the plural), but it overlaps with the demonstrative -h– pronoun in interesting ways. M attributes the difference to the perceptual-sensory focus of the demonstrative as opposed to the conceptual focus of the personal pronoun pandži (222). The form pandži is derived from a reflexive; a renewed Domari reflexive has been borrowed from Arabic (237).

The remaining chapters discuss the Arabic component, samples of talk, notes on the lexicon, and a Domari vocabulary of fourteen pages. In sum, this grammar presents a wealth of information on a moribund language in an accessible manner and with ample historical and comparative insights.