A grammatical study of Innu-aimun particles

A grammatical study of Innu-aimun particles. By Will Oxford. (Algonquian and Iroquoian linguistics memoir 20.) Winnipeg, Manitoba: Algonquian and Iroquoian Linguistics, 2008. Pp. xii, 301. ISBN 9780921064206. $40.

Reviewed by Michael W. Morgan, Addis Ababa University

Numerous Algonquian languages are still spoken across northern North America, and as a group they present a typological profile significantly different from other language families. Famous for verb transitivity classes, animacy distinctions in declension, and obviation, as well as their non-configurational and polysynthetic structure, they have traditionally been described as having three parts of speech: nouns (including pronouns and demonstratives), verbs, and particles, a loose class of indeclinables. Innu-aimun, also known as Montagnais and Naskapi, is a typical Algonquian language spoken in Labrador and Quebec. In the present work, Will Oxford presents and analyzes data on Innu-aimun particles, based mostly on the Eastern Montagnais dialect of Sheshatshiu, Labrador, but with occasional reference to other dialects and to varieties of Cree.

In Ch. 1, ‘Introduction’, O gives an introduction to the affiliation of Innu-aimun within Algonquian, an overview of its salient typological features, and the sources of his data. Ch. 2, ‘A Classification of Innu-aimun particles’, presents the classificatory scheme of particles that is followed throughout the book (including a discussion of several items whose status is uncertain). Two categories of declinable words, pronouns/demonstratives and clefting words, share some properties with particles, and are discussed separately in Ch. 3 and Ch. 4, respectively.

Innu-aimun particles per se are categorized as adnominal particles (Ch. 5), prepositions (Ch. 6), adverbs (Ch. 7), and minor categories (Ch. 8). Adnominal particles include a very limited set of adjectives (a class normally said to be non-existent in Algonquian languages), as well as three types of quantifiers: numeral quantifiers, non-numeral quantifiers, and the numerous and interesting group of incorporated-noun quantifiers (similar in many ways to East Asian classifiers). Prepositions also fall into three classes (locative prepositions, incorporated-noun prepositions, and functional prepositions). They are basically locatives, but unlike normal noun locatives, they can take a nominal object.

Adverbs in Innu-aimun are classified semantically as follows: circumstantial (manner, spatial, temporal, and spatial/temporal), degree (amplifying and attenuating), and modal (epistemic, evidential, evaluative, and volitional). The presentation of Innu-aimun particles ends with a number of distinct classes not covered in the preceding chapters: focus particles, question particles, negators, conjunctions, and interjections. While each of these classes is minor in size, they are of great interest for Innu-aimun syntax.

Ch. 9 summarizes grammatical patterns recurring throughout the book and presents O’s conclusions. In addition to the standard bibliography and index, O includes an appendix containing a glossary of over 500 Innu-aimun particles and function words to illustrate how the classification scheme of the present book can be applied to the LabLex dictionary database.