Gramática de la Lengua Guajira

Gramática de la Lengua Guajira: Morfosintaxis. 3rd edn. By Jesús Olza Zubriri and Miguel Ángel Jusayú. Caracas, Venezuela: Universidad Católica Andrés Bello, 2012. Pp. 580. ISBN 9789802446377.

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

Guajira, also called Guajiro, and less frequently Wayuu (Waiú in Spanish orthography) from the autonym meaning ‘(indigenous) person’, and least frequently Wayuunaiki ‘indigenous language’, is a major Arawak language spoken by about 300,000 people in Venezuela and Columbia. Wayuunaiki is verb- (or more specifically) predicate-initial, and is a morphologically complex agglutinative language. Although fusion is relatively limited, assimilation and elision do occur at morpheme boundaries (e.g. teʹraajüin ‘I know’ < ta-ʹraaja-in = first singular prefix + ‘know’ + subordination suffix; pié ‘your tongue’ < pü- + ayé). There is also a fair degree of (mostly) phonologically-conditioned allomorphy; for example, the suffix –aiata, indicating that the action takes place at various times or places but sporadically without regularity, has conditioned allomorphs -áiata, -áwáita, -eiata, -éiata, -éwéita, -iiata, and -úiata, depending on the final vowel of the stem. Prefixes are mainly limited to person markers (both on verbs and as possessive markers on nouns); suffixes are extremely numerous and include both grammatical and derivational morphology (with grammatical morphology being much more extensive for verbs than for nouns).

This book is a collaboration between two linguists, one of them a native speaker of Guajira. It is an encyclopedic grammar in Spanish containing seventy-seven chapters, plus an introduction, a bibliography, and an ‘In memoriam’ to its second author, who died in 2009 after a long career as author, lexicographer, and grammarian dedicated to his native tongue.

The work is indeed compendious, and includes details on dialect variation in the morphology (which is basically an eastern dialect and a west and central dialect). However, despite—or perhaps because of—its thoroughness and extensive detail, to linguists more accustomed to reference grammars that have come to take on a more or less standard format, this book may appear somewhat quirky. To begin, although replete with examples of the language, accompanied by a Spanish translation, there is no morphemic analysis and glossing for illustrative sentences, which may cause difficulty for the non-native reader (especially given the morphological complexity of the language, the degree of allomorphy, and instances of morphophonological assimilation and elision). Although the table of contents is detailed, the book has no index and very little cross-referencing, which may cause difficulty for a general linguist (say, a linguistic typologist) using it as a reference grammar. Although the organization is quite logical, at times chapter divisions seem arbitrary, as if this book were written for serialization. For example, Chs. 69–71 comprise a treatment of suffixes, which are arranged alphabetically (with nominal and verbal suffixes both included), so the division into three separate chapters (A–K, L–S, T–Y) seems to be motivated solely so as not to have one overly long chapter.

Nevertheless, this book comprises a thorough treatment of the language and as such is an important contribution to Guajira and Arawak linguistics, especially as an exhaustive pedagogical grammar in the hands of a native (or near-native) speaking teacher.