Khamnigan Mongol

Khamnigan Mongol. By Juha Janhunen. Munich: LINCOM Europa, 2005. Pp. 62. ISBN 3895862266. $53.20.

Reviewed by Joshua Ross, SIL International

Khamnigan Mongol is an extremely conservative, ethnospecific community language, which Juha Janhunen suggests may not be viable given various fundamental changes to its social and ecological context. This volume gives an outline of the grammar of Khamnigan Mongol and seeks to examine its ethnolinguistic context. It is divided into five parts: ‘Introduction’, ‘Ethnoliguistic context’, ‘Phonology’, ‘Morphology’, and ‘Diachronic aspects’.

The introduction consists of eight sections spread over five pages. After first defining Khamnigan Mongol, J then turns to the distribution and history of the speakers. The nomadic nature of the Khamnigans is then addressed, followed by their spiritual culture. The introduction concludes with an analysis of population trends and a history of the research into Khamnigan Mongol.

Part 2, ‘Ethnolinguistic context’, includes discussion about the significant Ewenki-Khamnigan Mongol bilingualism; while Khamnigan Mongol is taxonomically a separate Mongolic language, Khamnigan Ewenki should allow smooth communication with other Ewenki speakers. There is also discussion of tribal divisions and dialects, together with the issues of ethnic environment and interethnic communication, as well as the sociolinguistic trends.

Part 3, ‘Phonology’, covers the main phonological issues, including palatal and labial harmony, with restrictions on consonants and sandhi also surveyed. Part 4, ‘Morphology’, treats the three clearly distinguished parts of speech: nouns, verbs, and invariables. These are each dealt with in turn, as is the varying strength of suffixal bonds. The presentation is systematic and clear, isolating the commonly used forms for particular attention.

The final part, dealing with diachronic issues, begins by considering other Mongolic dialects. It first examines their influence with reference to their location, and then makes comparisons in order to substantiate the claim that Khamnigan Mongol is exceptionally conservative, noting that there are substantially fewer phonological innovations than in the other living Mongolic languages. Part 5 also summarizes some comparative evidence, tabulating counts of the shared and separating features among five major Mongolic languages.

Four sections in Part 5 relate Khamnigan Mongol to areally close languages: Buryat, Mongol proper, Dagur, and finally Ewenki. First, the notion that Khamnigan Mongol should be regarded as a dialect of Buryat is considered and rejected as politically rather than linguistically motivated, although J acknowledges that there are some features that link the two languages. There is some consideration also of a three-way comparison between Khamnigan Mongol, Buryat, and Mongol proper. The common features with Dagur are also examined, together with the probable origin of these due to the common influence of Ewenki. The final section contrasts the isolation and conservative nature of Khamnigan Mongol with the similar isolation, but without the conservativeness, of Dagur.

The volume concludes with one interlinearized sample text and a short bibliography.