A practical grammar of the San Carlos Apache language

A practical grammar of the San Carlos Apache language. By Willem J. de Reuse. Munich: Lincom Europa, 2006. Pp. xi, 569. ISBN 3895868612. $120.12.

Reviewed by Edward Vajda, Western Washington University

This fairly substantial treatment of one of the three Western Apache dialects was compiled to address the needs of native speakers, nonnative students, and professional linguists. As such, the book is something of a hybrid between a descriptive grammar and a textbook designed to satisfy two quite different groups of language learners: those with native-speaker skills and outright beginners.

The twenty lessons begin by describing the Apache phonetics and orthography, and proceed to increasingly complex topics in morphology and syntax. Each lesson contains practice exercises for grammar drill and dialogues with translation for conversation practice. Simple exercises target beginners and more involved problems are provided for students with advanced proficiency. Certain, more complex topics that might prove distracting in a regular language class are set aside in sections marked ‘advanced’ and could be skipped over for beginners. A number of features of potential significance to the linguist, which would be essential in a true reference grammar, are omitted entirely. For instance, no discussion of verb-prefix position classes is provided beyond a rudimentary overview in one of the ‘advanced’ subsections (34–38). At the same time, the material presented is of considerable richness and complexity and includes such topics as classificatory verbs and participant-individuated verbs of motion. Despite its clear and well-ordered explanations, this textbook could not be easily adopted below the high-school level and should be regarded as intended for serious, well-motivated students.

Appendices contain a useful index of verb paradigms, a glossary of grammatical terms, and a list of suggestions for further reading. The book ends with lengthy Apache-English (387–474) and English-Apache (475–569) dictionaries.

Native speakers and teachers will find the orthographic conventions useful, as this is the first publication to mark all three Apache tones clearly: acute accent for high tone, macron for mid tone, and grave accent for low tone. Each lesson contains numerous example sentences taken from natural speech, which illustrate the grammar in an order of graduated complexity that easily lends itself to serious language teaching.

A teacher’s guide, as well as cassette and CD voice recordings of the lesson materials, is in preparation. Sound supplements would be of great value, especially where native-speaker teachers are unavailable.

The primary author is Willem de Reuse, noted specialist on Athabaskan and other Native American languages. Phillip Goode served as his main native-speaker consultant, and his name also appears on the cover. Like many successful collaborations between professional linguists and native-speaker experts, this work shows a high degree of depth, accuracy, and professionalism. There is also useful information about traditional culture and society, particularly on kinship and clan structure (183–96). Despite the textbook format, this book is the most extensive description of any Apachean language form (excluding Navajo) yet published, and goes a long way toward providing a substantial reference.

Though it may not fully satisfy any of its intended subaudiences, this work is a major contribution to Athabaskan linguistics that will be of great practical value to all.