Monthly Archives: June 2012

Semiotics at the circus

Semiotics at the circus. By Paul Bouissac. (Semiotics, Communication and Cognition 3.) Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 2010. Pp. ix, 196. ISBN 9783110218299. $140 (Hb).

Reviewed by Lucas Bietti, Kulturwissenschaftliches Institut Essen

Paul Bouissac’s original and excellently written book is a success at all levels. B uses semiotics, pragmatics, and cultural studies in order to provide an analysis of numerous circus performances that he has documented as a researcher and circus enthusiast over the past thirty years. This enthusiasm comes through in his style of writing, turning the book into a fine work of scholarship combining all the elements of an ethnographic journey and an academic autobiography set in circus performance’s around the world.

The book is divided into eleven chapters, including an introduction and a conclusion. It coherently explains the cultural and social origins of the circus, its cognitive and emotional dimensions, the central role that animals and cultural artifacts (e.g. the bicycle) play in circus performances, the complex synchronization in acrobatics (e.g. the pyramid and the wheel), the logic and biosemiotics of clowns’ faces, and the marketing processes of involved with circus performance. In one chapter, B includes an interesting study on cases of negative experiences, failure, and accidents in the circus. There is another important and purely theoretical chapter in which the author presents the principles of a semiotic theory of live performances. These principles are mostly based on Paul Grice’s maxims of linguistic communication, which include the maxims of quality (i.e. ‘say what you believe to be true’), relevance (i.e. ‘make what you say relevant and timely’), quantity (i.e. ‘don’t say more or less than is required’), and manner (i.e. ‘be brief and clear’).

Several of B’s impressions and analyses of circus performances arise out of cross-cultural comparisons and personal experiences in geographically and culturally distant places, such as the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, Belgium, and India. Based on his experiences, having been part of the audience in these places, B not only provides a detailed description of the cultural and social differences in circus performances but also sheds light on the way the performances are received. Thus, a live performance which seemed to violate rules established by Western standards, which would automatically have made it a total failure, was considered a masterpiece by the local audience in places such as Mumbai and Kerala.

Examples like this show the ways in which the proposed principles for a semiotics theory of live performance undoubtedly are culturally, socially, and historically bounded. Perhaps the lack of a deeper cross-cultural reception study about how different audiences cognitively and emotionally engage with circus performances is one of the few downsides of the book. The book mostly draws on the author’s own experience as a circus enthusiast, spectator, and researcher.

Màʹdí English–English Màʹdí dictionary

ʹdí English–English Màʹdí dictionary, 2nd edn. By Mairi J. Blackings. (Languages of the world/dictionaries 25.) Munich: LINCOM Europa, 2011. Pp. vii, 232. ISBN 9783862880539. $90.97.

Reviewed by Michael Cahill, SIL International

This dictionary of about 7000 Màʹdí entries is written by a Màʹdíspeaker/linguist. The second edition has added 2000 entries since the first edition in 2000. It includes a six-page introduction explaining how to use the dictionary, including a list of phonemes and two notes on prefixes, but no other grammatical notes. The Màʹdí entries are in bold type, followed by a more phonetic-looking entry in square brackets. The first, bolded, entry is in the old orthography, and the second entry is in the new orthography, which includes tone marks and distinguishes +/- advanced tongue root (ATR) vowels with dots under [-ATR] vowels. Implosives are marked by an apostrophe before b, d, j, and gb, which varies between left- or right-hand single quote marks and an acute accent-like symbol, as in the volume’s title above. The entry includes the part of speech, one or more brief English definitions, and sometimes an example sentence or phrase, alternative forms, dialect label, or source of a borrowed word. The presence vs. lack of examples makes the book appear to be a mix of glossary and full dictionary. An English-Màʹdí glossary is included, with the English term, part of speech, and Màʹdí equivalent in the new orthography. For convenience, I refer below to Màʹdí entries in the old orthography.

There are many examples of identically spelled adjacent entries, like eku and eku (also identical in the new orthography) defined as ‘fish species’ and ‘glory’, edi and edi, ‘to have washed clothes’ and ‘to shout for help’, te and te, ‘to be drunk’ and ‘to fart’, and eco and eco, ‘to assume a different form’ and ‘to change’. Examples such as the last are obviously related and perhaps could be combined under one main entry, but the others do not seem related. If these are not mistakes, then either Màʹdí has quite a large number of homonyms, or there are phonetic distinctions not captured in the new orthography.

There is not a one-to-one correlation between the Màʹdí-English and English-Màʹdí sections. The head entry for ‘cook’ (noun) is oddly listed with the plural form la’di’ba, with the singular la’dire as a sub-entry. If one looks at the English-Màʹdí glossary, we find la’dire as well as another entry late’do, which does not appear in the main Màʹdí-English section at all. Those wanting to know the difference between la’dire and late’do will therefore be disappointed. One finds ‘rot’ and ‘decay’ both have ngma as the Màʹdí gloss, but when one looks up ngma in the Màʹdísection, we find only ‘decay’.

Likewise, there are many Màʹdí terms for plant and animal names where it would be helpful to have species names, such as with ngulinguli, which is simply defined as ‘a herb’, and rota ‘plant species’, without any other details. (Recall also eku was simply ‘a species of fish’.) Line drawings or some other illustrations would be helpful to identify terms more specifically.

Despite the unevenness of entries, this is a valuable and informative book for researchers. One could wish for a price affordable for the Màʹdí people themselves.

Voci dal Sud: A journey to southern Italy with Carlo Levi and his Christ stopped at Eboli

Voci dal Sud: A journey to southern Italy with Carlo Levi and his Christ stopped at Eboli. By Daniela Bartalesi-Graf. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011. Pp. 448. ISBN 9780300137446. $55.

Reviewed by John Ryan, University of Northern Colorado

This book is an advanced-level, Italian-language textbook based on the literary and visual artistic work of Carlo Levi, namely, that associated with his acclaimed novel, Christ Stopped at Eboli, and his ten-month exile to the southern Italian region of Basilicata (also known as Lucania) during the fascist regime of Benito Mussolini. The reason for the book’s specific regional focus is to give voice to Italy’s south, hence the book’s title, deviating from the more typical coverage of such northern regions of the Peninsula as Florence, Rome, or Venice.

This book is carefully divided into seven chapters, spanning historical, regional, literary, visual art, and cinematic treatment of Levi’s novel and exile. Providing an historical backdrop to Levi’s novel from the years of unification until the time when the novel takes place (1935), Ch. 1 takes students through several important milestones and realities which helped form the south as a different entity from the north. Ch. 2 is a comprehensive review of Levi’s novel, which summarizes each of Levi’s chapters, and each summary includes vocabulary, comprehension questions, and prompts for reflection. Ch. 3 transforms the student’s experience from literary to visual with inclusion and analysis of twelve color reproductions of paintings produced by Levi during his exile. Students are encouraged to reflect and think critically by ‘reading’ the featured paintings.

Moving from the visual arts to cinematographic representation, Ch. 4 is a comprehensive discussion of Francesco Rosi’s 1979 film based on Levi’s novel and emphasizes certain topics more suited to discussion of the film medium, such as the use of language, portrayal of women, nationalism, power, Levi’s transformation in the film, and American colonization, among others. Chs. 5–7 provide a more modern look at Italy’s south. Ch. 5 resumes the history lesson of Ch. 1 from World War II to modern times. Ch. 6 takes a closer look at the Basilicata region of Italy, how it has evolved since Levi’s times and continues to evolve. Finally, Ch. 7 takes a closer look at Aliano, the town of exile in Levi’s novel, where it is today, and what its present-day citizens think and feel about its past, present, and future.

The book includes separate appendices in which short essays and narratives about the south by authors other than Levi are included for additional reading. The book is also supplemented by a companion website at, which currently includes audio files of the interviews presented in the text, sample syllabi, photos of the Basilicata region, and web links mentioned in the textbook. Readers are urged to return periodically for updates to the site.

This book makes a valuable contribution for all advanced students of Italian in that it presents another side to the story of Italy’s history and development, namely that of its southern region. This is especially important given the large percentage of Southern Italians who immigrated to America at the end of the nineteenth-early twentieth century, a theme also treated in the book.

The exploration of multilingualism

The exploration of multilingualism: Development of research on L3, multilingualism and multiple language acquisition. Ed. by Larissa Aronin and Britta Hufeisen. (AILA applied linguistics series (AALS) 6.) Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2009. Pp. vii, 167. ISBN 9789027205223. $128 (Hb).

Reviewed by Richard W. Hallett, Northeastern Illinois University

Taking the stand ‘that multilingualism subsumes bilingualism’ (2), Larissa Aronin and Britta Hufeisen explain in an introductory chapter how this book is the result of the ‘coming of age’ (3) of research in trilingualism. Accordingly, the chapters that follow go beyond the canonical presentation of research on second language (L2) acquisition research. In Ch. 2, ‘Defining multilingualism’ (11–26), Charlotte Kemp not only defines the terms ‘monolingual’, ‘bilingual’, and ‘multilingual’, but also discusses current debates in multilingual acquisition research. Building on Kemp’s claims, Rita Francheschini argues that ‘multilingualism is a separate phenomenon in its own right and not equivalent to bilingualism’ (35) in Ch. 3, ‘The genesis and development of research in multilingualism: Perspectives for future research’ (27–61). In Ch. 4, ‘The development of psycholinguistic research on crosslinguistic influence’ (63–77), Gessica De Angelis and Jean-Marc Dewaele present a succinct literature review of crosslinguistic influence in multilingualism and the foundation of the International Association of Multilingualism.

In Ch. 5, ‘The role of prior knowledge in L3 learning and use: Further evidence of psychotypological dimensions’ (79–102), Muiris Ó Laoire and David Singleton present two multilingual acquisition studies: one on the learning of French as a third language (L3) and the other on German as an L3. To encourage further investigations of multilingual acquisition Larissa Aronin and Britta Hufeisen proffer ‘emerging and promising’ (103) methodologies in Ch. 6, ‘Methods of research in multilingualism studies: Researching a comprehensive perspective’ (103–20). Focusing primarily on the European context, Jasone Cenoz and Ulrike Jessner compare and contrast multilingual education and bilingual education in Ch. 7, ‘The study of multilingualism in educational contexts’ (121–38). To facilitate further research into multilingual acquisition, Peter Ecke lists numerous resources in Ch. 8, ‘Multilingualism resources: Associations, journals, book series, bibliographies and conference lists’ (139–54). The book concludes with Ch. 9, ‘Crossing the second threshold’ (155–60), in which Larissa Aronin and Britta Hufeisen summarize the findings of the previous chapters and discuss future possibilities for research on L3, multilingual, and multiple language acquisition.

This book will be useful as a primary text in new classes on multiple language acquisition and also as a supplemental text in existing classes on second language acquisition.

Making requests by Chinese EFL learners

Making requests by Chinese EFL learners. By Vincent X. Wang. (Pragmatics and beyond new series 207.) Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2011. Pp. xv, 199. ISBN 9789027256119. $135 (Hb).

Reviewed by Theresa McGarry, East Tennessee State University

This account of an empirical study of elicited requests of Chinese learners of English as a foreign language (EFL) addresses the relative paucity of research on second language learners’ communicative competence and thereby contributes to the understanding of cross-cultural pragmatics and interlanguage pragmatics (ILP). Chs. 1 and 2 contextualize the study in light of the increasing emphasis on the social element of second language acquisition and the goals, constructs, and theories of ILP. Ch. 3 describes the methodology, involving two groups of EFL learners and a native speaker baseline group. Responses are elicited using scenarios meant to construct realistic social contexts, in which respondents request specific types of services of favors.

Chs. 4–7 present the results. In certain scenarios, the learners differ markedly from the native speakers in strategy use, suggesting that they have difficulty adapting their strategy use to different contexts. They tend to rely heavily on relatively few formulae, using fewer syntactically complex formulae and formulae bound to particular contexts. Analysis of internal modifications to the request act shows differences in the use of conditionals, bi-clausal structures, and address terms. Finally, learners use supportive moves more frequently than native speakers, yielding longer request utterances, and they show some differences in how they organize the utterance moves.

In Ch. 8, the author interprets the results as suggesting strategic, sociopragmatic, and lexical interference. He finds advantages for the context-based and formulae-based approaches and argues for considering both formula use and strategy type use to be core constructs in measuring ILP competence. He further notes that instruction appears to have little effect, but the type of input does make a difference. Ch. 9 presents general conclusions as answers to the research questions posed earlier and discusses directions for future research.

This timely and exceptionally readable account of a well-conducted research project addresses important questions, and the methodology is clearly motivated and described. The operationalized constructs are explained with effective examples, as are the results, and the tables are helpful and complete. The analysis considers various aspects of the learner’s experience and, relating the results to earlier research, and the author makes judicious pedagogical recommendations without becoming overly prescriptive. An especially interesting part of the analysis is the consideration of sociopragmatic issues.

The book occasionally feels repetitive, because the same information is arrived at by different analyses, but the points are made concisely, and the independence of each unit would facilitate using one section in a class or reading group. While the author’s claim that Chinese EFL speakers accept the native speaker as the model, although unsubstantiated, seems entirely likely, the English as an international language viewpoint could have been considered more thoroughly. However, its mention is appreciated. Overall, this book is a strong contribution to the field of ILP that is highly accessible to the intended audience and is of great interest for both practical and theoretical reasons.

A grammar of Warrongo

A grammar of Warrongo. By Tasaku Tsunoda. (Mouton grammar library 53.) Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton, 2011. Pp. xi, 751. ISBN 9783110238761. $210 (Hb).

Reviewed by Philip W. Davis, Rice University

Warrongo was an Australian language spoken in northeastern Queensland, and Tasaku Tsunoda worked with the last fluent speaker of the language, Alf Palmer, who died in 1981 at over 100 years of age. Prior to Palmer’s participation in the description of his language, beginning in the 1970s, there was a period of fifty years during which he had not spoken Warrongo (45). Since 2000, T has made extensive efforts to promote the revival of Warrongo (v, vii), and this book ‘is almost entirely based on the lecture notes’ (v) from a course on the language taught at the University of Tokyo (2003–2009).

The book is organized into four chapters: The language and its speakers (1–52), Phonology (53–155), Word classes and morphology (156–317), and Syntax (318–699). The book concludes with excerpts from three texts (700–22), followed by indices of subjects, languages, and names.

Ch. 1 contains information about Warrongo’s language type, its dialects, the territory in which it was spoken, the anthropological context, speech styles, post-contact history, other studies on Warrongo, and present day situation. There were two fluent speakers in the 1970s, but the data from the second are ‘severely limited’ (3). Each speaker probably represented a different dialect, and the exact geographical extent in which Warrongo was spoken is not known (4). The Warrongos were never the focus of archaeological or anthropological study (15).

Ch. 2 presents Warrongo phonology in a phoneme-allophone format. The language had three vowels, with a marginal fourth, a long /a:/. There were two semivowels and eleven consonants at the bilabial, apico-alveolar, retroflex, lamino-palatal, and dorso-velar positions. Together they composed ‘one of the smallest phoneme inventories among Australian languages’ (53). Of interest is the non-discrete use of voice as a distinctive feature among the stops (60). Stress (133) and pitch (141) were not distinctive.

Ch. 3 identifies five word classes: nouns, personal pronouns, adverbs, verbs, and interjections. Adjectives are included among the nouns (157). The chapter is generally organized upon a distinction between derivational and inflectional morphology, and noun cases are presented according to their meanings and functions. Warrongo was a syntactically ergative language, ‘and word order is ‘fairly free’ (2, 318). This sets the task for Ch. 4, which is organized generally by types of sentences, clauses, then by constituents of clauses, and types of phrases. Among the construction types, a discussion of the antipassive occupies seventy-eight pages.

The treatment of the texts deserves special commendation. They are presented in the Warrongo, accompanied by a line of grammatical glosses and then by an English translation. T additionally accompanies the whole with running comments on Warrongo usage and includes reflective remarks by Alf Palmer himself.

T has performed an admirable job of language documentation. Against this background, it is a small quibble to note that we are not told certain sorts of information, such as how to say something like Alf shot the snake as a specific response to a question like Who shot the snake?

The languages of global hip hop

The languages of global hip hop. Ed. by Marina Terkourafi. (Advances in sociolinguistics.) New York: Continuum, 2010. Pp. xii, 351. ISBN 9780826431608. $170 (Hb).

Reviewed by MaryAnn Parada, University of Illinois at Chicago

In this well-written and intriguingly diverse book, editor Marina Terkourafi provides an invaluable contribution to the growing scholarship on hip hop. Consistent with the heterogeneity characteristic of the genre’s principal forms (i.e. breakdancing, DJ-ing, graffiti, and rap), the common thread across the book’s twelve chapters is in fact the distinctly ‘glocalized’ nature of the multiple hip hop varieties highlighted. From Germany to Egypt, Hungary to South Korea, Cyprus to Chicago, the linguistic analyses contained in this work offer diverse perspectives on the intersections between music, language, and identity in a globalized society.

Examining the linguistic peculiarities and local flavor of hip hop culture and production in their respective regions of study, specifically within the context of ‘connective marginalities’ (3) and the transnational notion of ‘keepin it real’, the authors adopt a number of methodologies and frameworks through which they analyze the ways in which authenticity is dually established both at the level of local life and in the acknowledgement of the broader hip hop movement and its origins.

In her engaging introduction, Terkourafi details how artists work to ‘claim’ authenticity at each of the two levels through strategic choices involving ‘both form (music samples and language varieties used) and content (topics and genres referred to, and attitudes expressed)’ (7). Authentic production in the local sense is typically accomplished through the incorporation of local rhythms, songs, or sounds, through the (often combined) use of national, regional, immigrant, or minority languages, and by referencing aspects of local culture and community. Global social issues highly relevant to the immediate environment, such as migration, may also be invoked to the same end. On the other hand, staying ‘real’ to hip hop culture more broadly is regularly observed in artists’ recognition of its Black inner-city roots through their use of linguistic features and styles associated with African American English (AAE) and through their stances of social critique and resistance.

Embedded in the book’s consistently clear prose are a host of other recurring and interconnected topics that relate to or directly interface with notions of authenticity, including ethnolinguistic identity, multilingualism and codeswitching, global English, audience design and marketability, emblematic discourse, lyrical structure, and sociopolitical taboo. This thematic variety endows the collection with an interdisciplinary appeal and utility to individuals of diverse research interests. However, despite the helpful glossary of hip hop terms in the appendix, it may read somewhat densely for those unacquainted with the hip hop genre or its trajectory of linguistic analysis. One may wish to first read one or two of the abundantly cited precursors to this book for a better understanding of pertinent sequences of events and investigative approaches.

The rich analyses contained in this work both advance hip hop research in exciting directions and expand the scope of sociolinguistics, and in so doing, offer important insights to scholars and graduate students dedicated to investigating the relational complexities of language and society.

Secret manipulations: Language and context in Africa

Secret manipulations: Language and context in Africa. By Anne Storch. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009. Pp. xx, 242. ISBN 9780199769025. $45.

Reviewed by Ángela Lobo López, Universidad Complutense Madrid

This book by Anne Storch represents the outcome of extensive fieldwork started in 1995 and carried out in Nigeria (Jukun-speaking communities), Uganda, and Sudan (Western Nilotic area). The book aims to show that the manipulation of language, by strategies such as secrecy, mimesis, sacrilege, and ambiguity, is functional to the construction of power and of social norms.

 The book is divided into ten parts: an introductory section with a preface by the author (ix–x), followed by acknowledgments (xi–xii) and  lists of maps (xiii), tables (xv), illustrations (xvii), and abbreviations (xix–xx); eight chapters; and a final reference section with a list of languages (235–36), bibliographical references (221–34), an index of languages (235–36), an index of authors (237–39), and a subject index (241–42).

 In the first chapter (3–18), the author defines the form of language change under investigation (i.e. deliberate manipulations of a language by its speakers), the sociocultural background (i.e. language change in the Africanist tradition, started by Westermann), and the theoretical framework for which ‘languages are seen […] as a powerful form of socially active knowledge maintained by and belonging to people who share ideas and ideologies of aesthetics, truth, sacredness, and identity’ (9).

 The second chapter (18–52) offers a typology of manipulated languages. The author discusses and exemplifies the following types: play languages, honorific registers, hunting and blacksmithing special-purpose registers, avoidance language, and taboo words, and ritual language. The third chapter (53–83) deals with the notion of secrecy with examples taken from Jukunoid languages (e.g. the story of Kona), Lango (e.g. Western Nilotic, morphologization), and Fulfulde (e.g. Niger-Congo, accumulative manipulation).

 In the fourth chapter (84–132) the author discusses the concept of mimesis, taking into consideration the language used in spirit mediumship and in cathartic possession, and also discusses the mimetic strategies displayed in expressive language (e.g. ideophones). The fifth chapter (133–67) takes into account sacrilege that is the revelation of a secret through unmasking. One paragraph in particular is dedicated to the role of Hone proverbs, by means of which it is possible to expose a secret (in a ritualized context) without destroying it.

 The sixth chapter (168–86) explores how potentially dangerous items and actions may be grammatically encoded as ambiguous concepts. Ambiguity is explained here through the conceptualization of food and poison. In the seventh chapter (187–200), the author outlines ‘how alterity is negotiated in the intercultural setting of African scenarios’ (187). Such an enquiry may be an arduous undertaking, given the number of intertwining features that play a role, such as trade contacts, inter-marriage, river systems, and geo-political issues. The author discusses the importance of rivers as cultural pathways in the history of Jukun-based empires. The final chapter (201–13) draws the conclusive remarks, offering some considerations about the way in which deliberate manipulation can improve our understanding of language change.

 Extremely rich in examples and approaches, this book is an important tool that can be used to attain a deeper understanding of the linguistic and cultural dimensions of language change.

Annual review of South Asian languages and linguistics

Annual review of South Asian languages and linguistics, 2011. Ed. by Rajendra Singh and Ghanshyam Sharma. (Trends in linguistics: Studies and monographs 241.) Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton, 2011. Pp. 241. ISBN 9783110270570. $140 (Hb).

Reviewed by Sanford B. Steever, New Canaan, Connecticut

The 2011 edition of the Annual review of South Asian languages and linguistics includes four general contributions, two special contributions, one regional report, and two extended book reviews. The two special contributions on Munda linguistics constitute the centerpiece of this book. John Peterson’s ‘Aspects of Kharia grammar’ (81–124) gives a lively and insightful overview of the role and reference grammar treatment of Kharia, a South Munda language, serving as an advertisement for the author’s 2011 book, A grammar of Kharia from Brill. Felix Rau’s ‘Grammatical voice in Gorum’ (125–58) provides an exemplary demonstration that Gorum possesses an opposition of active vs. middle voice (or effective vs. affective voice). This is a feat, given that many scholars have generally held that Gorum lacks the category of voice. Rau ably demonstrates what the morphophonemic exponents of these voice markers are, debunking their traditional analysis as markers of other categories. One can only hope that both scholars continue to bring the same clarity of analysis to further work on the too often overlooked Munda languages.

In the general contributions, Umberto Ansaldo’s ‘Metatypy in Sri Lanka Malay’ attempts to define metatypy as a typological category and discusses its role in the formation of the Sri Lanka Malay creole. Shishir Bhattacharja’s ‘Benglish verbs: A case of code-mixing in Bengali’ (17–34) brings to bear whole-word morphology on the analysis of Bangla verbs that consist of an English word and a Bangla verb (e.g. /EksiDenT kOra/ ‘have an accident’). Probal Dasgupta’s ‘Agreement and non-finite verbs in Bangla’ (35–48) considers the analysis of dependent clauses with non-finite verbs and an unexpressed subject in what he calls a biaxial approach. Ghanshyam Sharma’s ‘On the role of protases in conditional statements’ (49–78) uses Hindi data to support a definition of conditional propositions as crucially consisting of a string of the protasis and another element, such as Hindi to or English then. Against this model, however, the string does not constitute a constituent in any recognizable sense and his model makes the protasis a conjunct of the apodosis, not a subjunct. In any event, all four chapters are too short to make strong arguments for their positions. In addition, the transcription system for Bangla examples differs both between and within the relevant chapters; example ten on page 44 lacks the appropriate symbol (*).

Pigali Sailaja offers a regional report on linguistic activity in India (161–80), excerpting and cataloguing relevant articles from Indian journals from 2005 to the present. Finally, Shishir Bhattacharja reviews Linguistic traditions of Kashmir, edited by Mrinal Kaul and Ashok Aklujkar, while Ghanshyam Sharma reviews Problematizing language studies, a festschrift for Rama Kant Agnihotri, edited by S. Imtiaz Hasnain and Shreesh Chaudhary.