Monthly Archives: March 2011

The owl sacred pack

The owl sacred pack: A new edition and translation of the Meskwaki manuscript of Alfred Kiyana. Ed. and translated by Ives Goddard. Winnipeg, Manitoba: Algonquian and Iroquoian Linguistics, 2007. Pp. vi, 239. ISBN 0921064195. $40.

Reviewed by Thomas R. Wier, University of Chicago

For many years (indeed, centuries), the study of Native American languages and literatures has been hampered by the lack of widely available basic texts and grammars that would allow students and scholars to dig into non-Western language and culture. This is especially true of the languages of many smaller tribes for whom even the most rudimentary guides are not accessible outside the biggest university libraries. This work by Ives Goddard will help reverse that trend by presenting a full text, glossed and translated from the Meskwaki language into English in a clear, lucid format.

The story behind this text is an interesting one. Approximately 100 years ago, a scholar at the Smithsonian Institution, Truman Michelson, set out to document the language of the Meskwaki, or Fox, tribe in their settlement in Tama, Iowa, working with a local story-teller Alfred Kiyana. Kiyana had a prodigious memory and detailed knowledge of Meskwaki lore, and, before his sudden death in 1918 during the Spanish Influenza pandemic, had written approximately 10,000 pages of texts in all kinds of genres, ranging from the ceremonial, as with this text, to legends (e.g. ‘Mosquito, who fasted too long and became a spirit’ [Dahlstrom 1996]), to his own autobiography. So great was his contribution to Meskwaki literature that the Meskwaki language now has one of the largest corpora of texts of any native language north of the Rio Grande.

Although Michelson published a critically successful version of this text in 1921, the current edition constitutes an improvement over that earlier publication in a number of ways. First, Michelson’s transcription was prephonemic and sometimes used rather peculiar renderings of segments from a modern perspective—for example, the <ä> and <tc> that were used in place of the <eˑ> and <č> of G’s edition might be prone to misinterpretation by the casual reader. Michelson’s version also occasionally edited out lines that properly belong in the text, such as when he deleted a line in 17k (page 31 of this text), which, as G (1990: ‘Some literary devices in the Writings of Alfred Kiyana’) notes, actually constituted a chiastic construction that Kiyana used to alert the reader that more was to come in the story (160).

But by far the best feature of this edition is the line-by-line linguistic analysis. The Meskwaki language, like other Algonquian languages, has a remarkably baroque polysynthetic morphosyntax, and categories foreign to Western languages (such as obviation, a kind of reference tracking) can make it difficult for the unaided reader to appreciate even relatively simple clause structure. To remedy this, each line of this text is first broken down into constituent morphemes and then glossed and translated. Furthermore, G also notes the obviation status of each argument in the free translation, which helps the reader keep track of who is doing what to whom in a text where much is left inexplicit, without any overt verbal argument. These features will make this edition ideal for the linguistic study of the Meskwaki language and Algonquian literature in general, both for students and for more advanced scholars, especially as a companion to Dahlstrom’s forthcoming Grammar of Meskwaki.

La enseñanza-aprendizaje de Español como LE

Implementación de un modelo metodológico mixto para la enseñanza-aprendizaje de Español como LE. By Kerwin Anthony Livingstone. (LINCOM studies in second language teaching 10.) Munich: LINCOM Eurpoa, 2009. Pp, iv, 36. ISBN 9783895866067. $41.58.

Reviewed by Diego Pascual y Cabo, University of Florida

In this book, Kerwin Anthony Livingston proposes a teaching method better suited to students’ needs and conducive to improved second language acquisition that combines the task-based language teaching (TBLT) and cooperative language learning (CLL) approaches into a mixed methodological model (MMM).

TBLT considers language primarily a means of constructing meaning. To this end, students perform meaningful tasks in the target language, with stress on the outcome rather than on grammatical accuracy (Rod Ellis, Task-based language learning and teaching, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003). CLL is based on effective interaction in the classroom through work in small groups  (Carolyn Kessler, CooperativelLanguage learning: A teachers resource book, New York: Prentice Hall, 1992). In his study, L hypothesized that (i) this novel perspective on language teaching is an effective way of acquiring Spanish as a foreign language, and that (ii) students improve their Spanish language skills by focusing on a specific thematic task.

In a semilongitudinal study, L analyzed the performance of eighteen intermediate adult college students by means of quantitative differences in language proficiency on a pre- and a post-test. These tests were taken at the beginning and end of the study-abroad program at Concepción University in Chile. While in Chile, participants attended classes regularly in a totally immersive atmosphere. In class, the innovative methodology was implemented in a course entitled ‘Chilean customs and habits’. As suggested by the MMM, participants were given agentive roles in collaborative task-based activities. These activities consisted of structured exchanges of information among small groups of students who needed to cooperate in order to fulfill a group task. Under the MMM, the classroom became an interactive social context where students had the opportunity to improve their language skills.

The post-test results were very favorable indicators of the students’ improvement across the board. Student’s t-test applied to pre- and post-test results yielded statistically significant results, suggesting that  the MMM is an effective educative tool that promotes communication and meaningful social interactions.

However, the lack of a control group leaves one unable to attribute the improvements to the methodology itself. Crucially, the importance of total immersion in the second language culture, including education in other classes and residence with a host family for four months, goes largely unnoted. In conclusion, it is clear that even though the results of applying the MMM accompanied a significant positive outcome in the students’ performance, there are important unresolved issues that prevent the reader from drawing any conclusion on the relative effectiveness of this approach.

Revenge of the liar

Revenge of the liar: New essays on the paradox. Ed. by JC Beall. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007. Pp. 296. ISBN 9780199233908. $49.95.

Reviewed by Caroline Gagné, Université Laval

Are sentences spoken by a liar true or false? One suggestion would be to consider them to be a part of a category beyond truth and falsity; however, this beckons the revenge of the liar: dealing with a liar creates another one. The liar paradox also raises questions about logic, language, truth, and semantics. In this volume, fourteen experts focus on the nature of liar paradox from a logical perspective.

In Ch. 1, JC Beall presents the background of the liar and his revenge, focusing on the truth, the liar and the revenge phenomenon, and the revengers’ revenge. In Ch. 2, Roy T. Cook asserts that the concept of language is indefinitely extendable because of the revenge phenomenon. In this perspective, the semantic values of language should be indefinitely extendable as well.

In Ch. 3, Matti Eklund studies general theses that are related to the liar phenomenon, focusing primarily on inexpressibility and weak universality. In Ch. 4, Hartry Field presents his theory of truth, which concerns received wisdoms about revenge. Thomas Hofweber, in Ch. 5, advances the idea that strict reading and generic reading are both valid senses of an inference rule ‘just if truth-preserving’ (15). This distinction may resolve the revenge phenomenon by viewing the rules as generically valid.

In Ch. 6, Hannes Leitgeb discusses Field’s theory (presented in Ch. 4) and proposes two metatheories—one classical and one nonclassical—to explore Field’s theory of truth. Leitgeb’s theory shares Field’s logic. In Ch. 7, Tim Maudlin maintains that normative principles of assertion can be learned from the revenge phenomenon. He argues for three semantic categories: truth, falsity, and ungroundedness.

In Ch. 8, Douglas Patterson proposes an inconsistency view of the semantic paradoxes in English. For Patterson, understanding a language is a relation to a false theory. Graham Priest (Ch. 9) focuses on a characterization of the liar’s revenge, a discussion of Field’s theory, and the background of Zermelo-Frankel set theory, which meets a revenge-like situation.

Agustin Rayo and P. D. Welch (Ch. 10) advance that Field’s theory of truth is not really revenge-free. In Ch. 11, Stephen Read discusses Thomas Bradwardine’s (a physicist and theologian in the 1300s) theory of truth. Greg Restall (Ch. 12) examines the costs of using nonclassical solutions to solve the paradoxes of self-reference.

In Ch. 13, Kevin Scharp argues that the liar’s revenge shows that truth is an inconsistent concept. In Ch. 14, Stewart Shapiro maintains that the Burali-Forti’s paradox has its own revenge issues and discusses the ways to deal with them. In Ch. 15, Keith Simmons demonstrates the difference between direct revenge and second-order revenge and presents his theory that may resolve second-order revenge.

This book will be useful to anyone working in truth studies, philosophical logic, and philosophy of language, or for those interested in formal semantics and metaphysics.

Einführung in das Baskische

Einführung in das Baskische: Besoan. Mit grammatischen Erklärungen, Übungen und Lösungen. By María Pilar Larrañaga. (LINCOM Spachlehrbücher 3.) Munich: LINCOM Europa, 2009. Pp. 300 + CD. ISBN 9783929075595. $57.54.

Reviewed by Peter Freeouf, Chiang Mai University

This book is one of a growing number of textbooks for instruction in the basics of the Basque language, a non-Indo-European language isolate spoken in northern Spain and southwestern France. It is the only indigenous non-Indo-European language spoken in Western Europe. The Basque language has gained a relatively privileged position in the Basque country of Spain since the collapse of the Franco dictatorship. It is recognized as the co-official language, along with Spanish, in the autonomous Basque region. The standardized or unified (e.g. Batua form of the language is increasingly used as the language of instruction in schools and is also widely used in the press, broadcast media (radio and TV), and on the internet. The number of books published in Basque is growing. Einführung in das Baskische deals with the modern standardized Basque language, now well established in the autonomous Basque region of northern Spain rather than any of the numerous spoken dialects. Since the textbook is written in German, it will probably be of limited usefulness in the English-speaking world. The book is divided into twenty-four Lektionen, followed by a glossary (Basque-German) of twenty pages and an answer key for all the exercises in the lessons (231–97).

There are connected reading passages beginning in Lektion 4. Short discussions of cultural topics and the texts of songs are also included in various sections. A CD-ROM containing various reading passages and songs from the lessons, as read by native speakers, is included as a resource. Information about the speakers and text is indicated on the back cover (298).

The sounds and writing system are covered very briefly in the first three pages of the first lesson. This is followed in the same lesson by discussions of the article, the present tense of the basic verbs izan ‘to have’ or ‘to be’ and egon ‘to be’, basic word order, questions, and demonstratives. The complex verb system, with its numerous synthetic and periphrastic forms, subject/object marking on the verb, and the agglutinative-type of nominal case morphology is covered in several chapters. Lektion 6 (73–83) is devoted to the ergative case, a characteristic feature of Basque, and its relationship to the syntax of the language.

The exercises placed at the end of each lesson are of various types: substitution, fill-in-the-blank type questions, syntactic transformations, and German to Basque translations of sentences.

Interspersed throughout the text are paradigm tables of sample sentences, with German translation, illustrating a specific grammatical point under discussion in the lesson. These tables are easily identifiable since they are presented against a gray background. There are numerous illustrations and some photographs as well.

The textbook was originally designed for use in a beginning Basque class at a German university. It can be used by anyone who has reading knowledge of German and wants to acquire a grasp of the basics of modern standardized Basque. Not every word used in the exercises is shown with the German translation. Therefore, it is necessary to have access to a German-Basque dictionary.

Toward an evolutionary biology of language

Toward an evolutionary biology of language. 2nd edn. By Philip Lieberman. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2006.Pp. xi, 427. ISBN 9780674021846. $57.50.

Reviewed by Julie B. Lake, Georgetown University
and Sonja A. Kotz, Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Germany

Toward an evolutionary biology of language is an impressive book that synthesizes an enormous amount of information. Lieberman addresses ‘the nature and evolution of the biologic bases of human language’ (1), drawing on a wide array of information from human and animal studies, including linguistic, neuronal, anatomical, and philological. The book is structured to be accessible to novices or experts, as it straddles two areas of research that are integrally linked without successful communication between their practitioners, linguistics and neuroscience.

Each topic is introduced with a toolbox, giving the ‘nuts and bolts’ terms needed to understand the following chapter and describing important aspects and assumptions of the area. Each of the eight chapters ends with a series of ‘take-home messages’ that order and highlight information. The book weaves together many themes, but L’s main goal is to counter a location-based model of brain functioning, emphasizing instead the role of the neural networks of the basal ganglia and other structures.

How language works is quite complex; this book offers the first steps toward a falsifiable evolutionary biology of language. L describes the ‘primitive’ and ‘derived’ features of human language through a review of comparative studies with present-day apes (Ch. 2); begins to tease apart exactly how speech is ‘singular’ (Ch. 3); identifies biological, cognitive, and perceptual elements of speech (Ch. 4); covers the role of different neural correlates in language and details  how ‘the evolution of the neural mechanisms initially adapted for motor control appears to be the key to the evolutionary process that yields our ability to create a potentially infinite number of actions or thought processes from a finite number of stereotyped motor sequences, words, or thoughts’ (12, describing Ch. 5); looks at the anatomical aspects of speech (Ch. 6); and attempts to integrate the findings of neuroscience and evolutionary biology into linguistic research (Ch. 7). Ch. 8 suggests future directions for research towards a more falsifiable evolutionary biology of language.

In summary, L proposes that the Broca-Wernicke language organ theory current among theoretical linguists is incorrect, as subcortical structures such as the basal ganglia have been implicated in language as well as motor control and creative/flexible intelligence. He further discusses possible neural networks underlying language processing, and argues that the neural structures used in speech production, in both its voluntary aspects and the syntactic ability to produce unlimited words and sentences, have been adapted from those involved in motor control (e.g. walking).

Overall this is an impressive, challenging, and commendable book on the neuroscience of language. For linguists in general L offers a fair but well-needed critique of theoretical linguistic claims about ‘the way language works’. Furthermore, many sections of the book offer comprehensive overviews of linguistic topics (e.g. articulatory phonetics/phonology) that should be helpful to a novice. Some sections are more philosophical (e.g. reflections on cognitive flexibility and reiterative syntactic mechanisms) and invite the interested reader to think further about the evolutionary biology of language.

A grammar of classical Japanese

A grammar of classical Japanese. By Noriko Katsuki-Pestemer. (LINCOM studies in Japanese linguistics 3.) Munich: LINCOM Europa, 2009. Pp. xx, 312. ISBN 9783929075687. $105.28.

Reviewed by Elly van Gelderen, Arizona State University

A grammar of classical Japanese is intended for students of Classical Japanese (CJ) and for linguists ‘with or without knowledge of the Japanese language’ (back cover). This reviewer has little knowledge of Japanese and had occasional trouble with Japanese-specific terminology, as well as the lack of glosses in the tables (e.g. 166–71). Most of the glosses are excellent (e.g. 28–30), though the transcription method is unfamiliar and for a general readership perhaps less useful than that of Alexander Vovin’s A reference grammar of Classical Japanese prose (New York: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003).

The book has seven chapters. The introduction explains transcription methods, morpheme segmentation, and the periodization of Japanese. A helpful list of important literary works is also included. The second chapter is a very short description of the graphemes using phonetics and phonology of CJ, followed by exercises (lacking from other chapters), and the third chapter, on the morpho-syntax of the Heian period, is similarly short (twelve pages). It recognizes twelve word classes: nouns, pronouns, three types of adjectives, adverbs, verbs, auxiliaries, postpositions, conjunctions, interjections, and numeral quantifiers. These are further classified as inflectional and non-inflectional. Like Modern Japanese, CJ is verb-final, pro-drop, and has four types of predicates (nominal, verbal, and two adjectival); little more is said about syntax.

Ch. 4 describes the CJ word classes and at 205 pages is by far the longest chapter. The section on pronouns is particularly interesting for its chronological treatment (though the tables are hard to use for non-Japanese speakers). For instance (44–45), the Nara period (710–784) may have had twelve first person singular pronouns, the Heian period (794–1185) sixteen, the Kamakura and Muromachi (1192–1573) twenty, the Edo period (1603–1867) sixty-two, and the modern period ‘only’ six. The source of these pronouns is not explained sufficiently clearly for grammaticalization studies, but some sociolinguistic background is provided. Demonstrative and reflexive pronouns are also covered. While the latter have undergone much change and were more numerous than the current reflexive jibun ‘self’, not much is said about them.

Ch. 5 is a fifteen-page description of the three kinds of honorifics: speaker, interlocutor, and referent. The examples are explained well. Ch. 6 is on the rhetoric of CJ poems called waka; Ch. 7 presents the author’s conclusions and is followed by a glossary that is helpful to the non-linguist and a good index.

In a comparative view, this book is accessible to non-Japanese speakers, unlike Haruo Shirane’s Classical Japanese: a grammar (New York: Columbia University Press 2005), which however has more historical notes and is better suited to Japanese speakers. Vovin (2003) is better organized and more accessible.

In conclusion, this book is interesting and enjoyable for a general linguistic audience, but it might be more helpful to those with a background in Japanese.

The semantics of English negative prefixes

The semantics of English negative prefixes. By Zeki Hamawand. London: Equinox, 2009. Pp. xii, 179. ISBN 9781845539719. $35.

Reviewed by Karen Steffen Chung, National Taiwan University

At its heart, this book is an argument for making semantics a supporting pillar of morphological analysis. It is divided into six chapters: ‘Negation’, ‘Derivation’, ‘Category’, ‘Domain’, ‘Construal’, and ‘Conclusion’.

H first devotes considerable space to a literature review of such approaches to morphological analysis as item-and-process and item-and-arrangement. The approach that he contrasts to these and advocates in this study is cognitive linguistic. By this he means that instead of viewing morphemes as building blocks with static meanings that are strung together by rules, the meaning of a composite linguistic expression emerges from highly structured background knowledge, with the component parts interacting dynamically to convey aspects of the expression’s meaning.

One of the author’s theses is that no two distinct linguistic forms are completely synonymous and chooses English prefixes with negative meanings as his case in point. His method entails examination of pairs of words in which negative prefixes with close yet contrasting meanings can attach to the same base, e.g. dis- and mis­- in distrust and mistrust, respectively. The contrast between the two, he says, is to be found in the differing construal of the two words and in the words they collocate with; distrust, for example, tends to collocate with people (foreigner, judge, salesman), and mistrust with things (computer, hospital, system).

H believes that one should try to capture the relatedness of morphemes used in different senses by viewing them as polysemes rather than homonyms. For example, he gives ‘move away from’ as the prototypical meaning of ab-, and ‘wrongly perform’ and ‘release’ as more peripheral meanings of the same core concept.

The negative prefixes covered in this study are: a-, ab-, anti-, contra-, counter-, de-, dis-, in-, mal-, mis-, non-, pseudo-, quasi-, semi-, sub-, un-, and under-, coming from Greek, Latin, French and Old English. Some of these, however, are not negative in denotation, like the Latin partitive semi– ‘partly, half’ (Greek hemi– is not included) and the Latin quasi- ‘closely resembling’ (Greek para– is not included).

The author used two main corpora to collect his examples, the British National Corpus and the entire Internet via Google. The Internet is a godsend for linguistic corpus work, but it does require careful filtering and judgment. Some forms cited in the book were unfamiliar, e.g. indiscipline, some UK-specific, e.g. non-iron [shirts] (vs. US no-iron), and some of the contrasted forms in Ch. 5 were relatively uncommon words, e.g. defrock vs. unfrock, which might make one question the representativeness and coverage of the data.

The writing is clear but occasionally a bit awkward stylistically, and the English has a non-native feel about it. However, the content is solid and the logic easy to follow, so this is a minor shortcoming. Overall, this book is worth careful consideration for its contribution to morphology by offering a new angle from which to approach it.

Intonation in the grammar of English

Intonation in the grammar of English. By M. A. K. Halliday and William S. Greaves. London: Equinox, 2008, Pp. 256. ISBN 9781904768159. $24.95.

Reviewed by Reda A. H. Mahmoud, Minya University, Egypt

Intonation in the grammar of English is primarily concerned with English as an integrated system of four strata: meanings created by the language system, forms matched to those meanings by lexicogrammatical patterns, phonological patterning of these forms, and phonetic substance through which the phonological patterns are uttered and perceived. In terms of systemic functional theory, the authors deal with the intonation system of English as a patterning within the above four consistent strata to achieve three meanings: the textual meaning, interpersonal meaning, and ideational meaning. To describe the intonation system of English in terms of these strata, the book consists of three parts that examine: speech sounds as the phonetic/phonological resources that construct different meanings, the role of intonation in English in relation to textual, interpersonal, and ideational metafunctions, and real spoken texts.

Part 1 introduces different ways of thinking about speech sounds in physical, biological, engineering, and linguistic terms. It also discusses significant technical and experimental approaches to the description and analysis of speech sounds: analysis-through-resynthesis (the Institute for Perception approach), tone and break indices, metrical phonology, and optimality theory. Such modern computer-based techniques of analysis and representation provide accurate information about how intonation contributes to constructing different meanings. The processes in which sound represents meaning and meaning is perceived are presented step by step through graphs and recorded examples on an integrated CD with this book.

Part 2 clarifies how intonation contributes to textual, interpersonal, experiential, and logical meanings. It begins by providing the basic taxonomy of English intonation to show how tonality (the organization of discourse as a successivity of tone units) and tonicity (the organization of each tone unit around a particular point of prominence) create textual meaning. The systematic relation of the tone system with mood and modality systems is discussed to reveal a large network of potential interpersonal meanings. Intonation and the ideational metafunction focuses on experiential and logical components to argue that tone sequences construe logical meanings, while intonation plays no part in the realization of experiential meanings in English. Part 2 concludes with a detailed demonstration of how sound makes meaning through the full analysis of a microtext.

Part 3 to illustrates the four metafunctions of intonation on the semantic and the lexicogrammatical levels, followed by short audio texts with detailed commentary. It is a summary or a checklist of the principal systems of informational grammar and their realization by intonation.

Theories of lexical semantics

Theories of lexical semantics. By Dirk Geeraerts. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010. Pp. xix, 341. ISBN 9780198700319. $35.

Reviewed by Eitan Grossman, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

This erudite book is a critical historical survey of lexical semantic theories by one of the foremost scholars in the field. The book is divided into five main chapters, an introduction, and a concluding chapter. Each chapter gives a concise presentation of the main concerns, insights, and drawbacks of each tradition, as well as a resumé of further sources.

Ch. 1, ‘Historical-philological semantics’, deals with semantic change. It traces the emergence of this tradition from its origins in speculative etymology, rhetoric, and lexicography, to the pioneering figures of Bréal and Paul. G takes the classification of semantic changes as the hallmark of this tradition and emphasizes its enduring achievements, especially its descriptive and theoretical contributions.

Ch. 2, ‘Structuralist semantics’, is cast as a rejection of historical-philological semantics. The structuralist emphasis on systemic and synchronic aspects of meaning led to a shift from semasiology to onomasiology. The author describes the three main types of structuralist semantics: lexical field theory, componential analysis, and relational semantics. He identifies several problems of structuralist semantics: it downplayed semasiology, it did not do justice to the problem of demarcating linguistic knowledge from encyclopedic knowledge, and it lacked a principled approach to onomasiology.

Ch. 3 discusses generative semantics, which the author sees as continuing the methods of structuralist semantics, especially componential analysis, with a formalist descriptive apparatus (formal logic) and a mentalist conception of language. The chapter focuses on Katzian semantics, briefly treating formal and computational semantics.

Ch. 4, ‘Neostructuralist semantics’ continues structuralist ideas, but takes from generative semantics interests in formalization and in demarcating linguistic knowledge. This chapter, which deals mainly with componential and relational frameworks, is one of the best in the book, as it provides a detailed and critical overview of some of the most prominent theoretical frameworks current today.

The fifth—and longest—chapter is concerned with cognitive semantics, a ‘maximalist’ perspective that focuses on integrating meaning and cognition with semantics and pragmatics. G offers a detailed and illuminating account of the main pillars of cognitive semantics: the prototype model of category structure, the conceptual theory of metaphor and metonymy, idealized cognitive models and frame theory, and language change. He stresses the links between cognitive semantics and earlier traditions, but attributes to the former significant contributions to lexical semantics. The chapter ends with a discussion of where cognitive semantics could be improved.

The concluding chapter summarizes the main points of the book and discusses the interrelationships between the various traditions in a more nuanced way. For example, G describes cognitive semantics as a partial return to the psychological and encyclopedist concerns of the historical-philological tradition. The author’s historical analysis is one of the most enlightening parts of the book.

Theories of lexical semantics is remarkably well-written, well-organized, and highly useful book that succeeds admirably in providing a coherent framework for understanding the issues that connect and distinguish theories of lexical semantics.

Armenian: Modern Eastern Armenian

Armenian: Modern Eastern Armenian. By Jasmine Dum-Tragut. (London Oriental and African language library 14.) Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2009. Pp. xv, 742. ISBN 9789027238146. $195 (Hb).

Reviewed by Michael W. Morgan, Mumbai, India

Armenian is the only known representative of the Armenian branch of Indo-European. Classical Armenian (Grabar) is documented from the fifth century, and the modern language has two varieties, each with its own literary standard: Western (‘Turkish’) Armenian and Eastern Armenian, the official language of Armenia. Eastern Armenian is the subject of Jasmine Dum-Tragut’s comprehensive reference grammar.

The grammar consists of six chapters. Ch. 1, ‘Phonology’ (13–59), discusses phonotactics, orthography and pronunciation, alternations, and intonation. Armenian has tripartite plosive and affricate series: voiced, voiceless aspirated, and plain (in some dialects glottalized) voiceless, as in Kartvelian, Ossetic, and Kurmanji. Word stress patterns resemble West Oghuz Turkic.

Ch. 2 (60–310) details Armenian morphology. Structurally Armenian is closer to Turkic than Indo-European, with agglutinative noun morphology (stem+plural+case+definite article), possessive suffixes (used also to express agents of non-finite verb forms), and no gender. Armenian has several declension classes and five noun cases: nominative, dative, instrumental, ablative, and locative. In lieu of an accusative case, the dative is used for human and the nominative for non-human direct objects. As the genitive has merged with the dative except for pronouns, the dative has a wide range of adnominal and adverbial usages.

Verbs are classified by semantic, morphological, clause, aspect/Aktionsart, and diathesis type. Armenian has a number of tense-aspect and mood forms based on present and perfect-aorist stems, a rich system of eight non-finite forms, and analytical (participle plus auxiliary) tense forms. The aorist is the only synthetic tense in Armenian. Negation is by prefix.

Syntax is the topic of Ch. 3 (311–644). In addition to pro-drop and nominative case, the subject is also expressed by the dative in the typologically interesting partitive subject construction. Transitivization and detransitivization, simple and complex sentence patterns, and constituent order are discussed in considerable detail. The subsection ‘Special constructions’ (498–554) is of particular interest for typology, presenting a number of innovative syntactic constructions atypical of Indo-European languages.

Ch. 4 (645–82) treats word formation. Armenian has extensive series of productive prefixes and suffixes. It also makes extensive use of compounding and reduplication, including intensive adjectives with Turkic-like reduplication of initial CV with /p/ or /s/ in the coda. Abbreviations, including extremely productive acronyms, clippings, stump compounds, and hypocoristics, are also discussed.

The final two chapters deal with topics traditionally dealt with in pedagogical works. Punctuation is presented in Ch. 5 (683–716). In addition to the various punctuation marks placed at the end of clauses, Armenian also indicates intonation through question, stress, and exclamation marks on the appropriate word/syllable. The short final chapter, ‘Lexicon—Structured semantic fields’ (717–23), presents five semantically-related  lists of color terms, body parts, time expressions, numbers, and kinship terminology. This last is bifurcal-collateral and includes Turkish loans for maternal uncle’s wife and brother, presumably indicating inter-ethnic marriage.

Although this is a grammar of Standard Eastern Armenian, both written and colloquial, frequent reference is made to Classical Armenian and eastern dialectal forms. Copious illustrative examples from an extensive corpus of written and spoken material are found throughout, and all forms and examples are given in both Armenian script and transliteration.