Uchumataqu

Uchumataqu: The lost language of the Urus of Bolivia. A grammatical description of the language as documented between 1894 and 1952. By Katja Hannß. (Indigenous languages of Latin America 7.) Leiden: CNWS Publications, 2008. Pp. xiv, 304. ISBN 9789057891588. $62.16.

Reviewed by Michael W Morgan, Addis Ababa University

Like many native languages, the now extinct Bolivian language Uchumataqu was never fully documented. Basing her study on a variety of sources collected between 1894 and 1952, when the language was already in decline, Katja Hannß has compiled all that can be known about the language and presented us with a grammatical description.

In Ch. 1, Hintroduces us to the Uru people and what we know of their language, Uchumataqu. H discusses her sources in detail, which yield data limited in quantity and often in quality, and keeps us informed throughout of their reliability.

The grammar proper consists of chapters on phonology, morphological processes and word classes, the nominal system, the verbal system, adverbs, postpositions and negation, and clauses. Given the nature of the sources (word lists, elicited paradigms, and translated sentences), the sections on phonology and morphology (Chs. 2–6) constitute the bulk of the description. The discussion of phonology provides a coherent synthesis of the extremely divergent transcription systems of the original sources.

Ch. 3 describes that Uchumataqu is a moderately agglutinative language, although less so than Quechua and Aymara, the predominant languages of the area. While all parts of speech may have up to two affixes attached to the stem, the bulk of affixal morphology is on verbs, which generally have two affixes, but may have up to four. In addition, compounding, incorporation, and reduplication are discussed. The chapter concludes with a discussion of the characteristics of the parts of speech, especially nouns, adjectives, and verbs.

Ch. 4 discusses the nominal system as well as pronouns, adjectives, and numerals. Nouns in Uchumataqu typically take a number of case suffixes and plural markers (the latter optionally). The pronominal system includes an exclusive/inclusive distinction in the first person plural pronouns, but separate possessives only for the first and, optionally, third person singular. The presentation of demonstrative, indefinite, and interrogative pronouns is followed by a number of interrogative-related phenomena, including a question marker, question-bound topic marker, and possibly a special second person singular pronoun found in interrogatives. Although she discusses them with nominals, H argues for adjectives being a separate word class.

Uchumataqu verbs show a future/non-future tense system, though there are markers for present and past tense and a resultative aspect marker as well. Only in the future and simple present is a person distinction made, with first person singular distinct from all other forms. Uchumataqu verbs may also be accompanied by markers of first person (singular or plural) subject, first person object (marked with the only productive prefix we know of in the language) or non-first person object. Finally, the verb system includes a causative suffix, subject and object relativizers, gerund, and switch-reference marker. The discussion of the verbal system concludes with mood, which includes imperative, irrealis (used for conditional, optative, potential, deontic modality, and future irrealis), and an evidential of validation.

Ch. 6 discusses the remaining word classes. Uchumataqu has the normal range of adverbs of time, space, manner, and degree, but in many cases adverbs can be marked with a predicator suffix also used optionally with adjectives. The language has a clausal affirmative clitic that can occur in all adverb subclasses. Ch. 7 gives a short description of clauses and clause types in Uchumataqu. Of particular interest are the clausal clitics: the declarative marker, topic marker, affirmative marker, and personal clitics that may occur on any part of speech. Finally, the book closes with a list of references and subject index.

In an age when we fret over the growing number of endangered languages, H has done us a great service by making available a coherent and interesting documentation of a language from beyond the grave.