The Austronesian languages of Asia and Madagascar

The Austronesian languages of Asia and Madagascar. Ed. by Alexander Adelaar and Nikolaus P. Himmelmann. New York: Routledge, 2005. Pp. 841. ISBN 9780700712861. $360 (Hb).

Reviewed by Craig Soderberg, Dallas, TX

This thorough book begins with five general or historical articles followed by twenty-three articles relating to specific Austronesian languages. Among the general articles, Alexander Adelaar, in ‘The Austronesian languages of Asia and Madagascar: A historical perspective’, points out that the Austronesian language family is the largest language family in the world with 1,200 members (making up 20% of the world’s languages). He also diagrams and describes the Proto-Austronesian and Proto-Malayo-Polynesian language families. In ‘Language shift and endangerment’, Margaret Florey lists seven factors that facilitate or hinder language endangerment. Hein Steinhauer’s ‘Colonial history and language policy in Insular Southeast Asia and Madagascar’ describes how western colonial powers contributed to the strengthening of national languages such and Indonesian and Malay. James J. Fox, in ‘Ritual languages’, gives examples of avoidance vocabulary and word tabooing as well as special registers like ‘prokem’, which is used by the youth of Jakarta. In ‘Typological characteristics’, Nikolaus P. Himmelmann groups various Austronesian languages according to certain features such as nasal assimilation, ‘right-ward’ reduplication, subjecthood, and alignment systems.

Following Waruno Mahdi’s article on ‘Old Malay’, Adelaar, in ‘Structural diversity in the Malayic subgroup’, discusses literary Malay varieties, Pidgin-derived Malays, and Malayic vernaculars, and gives characteristics of various Malay varieties. In ‘Colloquial Indonesian’, Michael C. Ewing notes some interesting discourse features of Indonesian. The remaining articles focus on specific minority Austronesian languages: ‘Tsou’ (Elizabeth Zeitoun), ‘Seediq’ (Naomi Tsukida), ‘Iloko’ (Carl Rubino), ‘Tagalog’ (Nikolaus P. Himmelmann), ‘Sama (Bajau)’ (Akamine Jun), ‘Kimaragang’ (Paul Kroeger), ‘Belait’ (Adrian Clynes), ‘Malagasy’ (Janie Rasoloson and Carl Rubino), ‘Phan Rang Cham’ (Graham Thurgood), ‘Moken and Moklen’ (Michael D. Larish), ‘Karo Batak’ (Geoff Woollams), ‘Nias’ (Lea Brown), ‘Javanese’ (Alexander K. Ogloblin), ‘Buol’ (Erik Zobel), ‘Makassar’ (Anthony Jukes), ‘Mori Bawah’ (David Mead), ‘Kambera’ (Marian Klamer), ‘Tetun and Leti’ (Aone van Engelenhoven and Catharina Williams-van Klinken), ‘Taba’ (John Bowden), and ‘Biak’ (Hein Steinhauer).

Each language article includes an introduction and sections on topics like phonology and orthography, basic morphosyntax, major verbal alternations, and deictics and directionals. In these remaining articles, some features making for Austronesian language-uniqueness can be seen. For example, Western Austronesian languages differ significantly in their deictic systems, showing parameters of variation that include the number of degrees of distance distinguished in a given system. Malagasy is unique for distinguishing seven different degrees. In Leti, the uniqueness is that deictics convey speaker’s attitude. The Kambera language is unique in that it has a particularly complex example of clitics.

This book is highly recommended for anyone considering publishing a linguistic description of an Austronesian minority language, since it contains numerous useful examples.