Speaking Sitimaxa

Speaking Sitimaxa: A learner’s grammar and reader. By Julien Granberry. Vol. 3: Dictionary. (LINCOM language coursebooks 12/3.) Munich: LINCOM Europa, 2009. Pp. 622. ISBN 9783929075885. $123.20.

Reviewed by Elly van Gelderen, Arizona State University

The third volume of Speaking Sitimaxa: A learner’s grammar and reader contains a Sitimaxa-English (10–188) and English-Sitimaxa (189–618) lexicon. The last speakers of Sitimaxa died over seventy years ago and the grammar, reader, and dictionary will help members of the tribe in Southern Louisiana relearn the language.

The story of the re-emergence of Sitimaxa is fascinating. Morris Swadesh and Mary Haas worked with the last speakers and gathered material on Sitimaxa in the 1930s. These data, some of which were spoken records, were then given to Julian Granberry by Swadesh and Haas in 1943 with a suggested orthography. The materials were meant to be developed into a dictionary and grammar for the non-linguist language learner. G did this, while adding eighteenth and early nineteenth century material, to develop the dictionary as part of his undergraduate work at Yale. The present edition is a reprint of the 1949 edition prepared by G.

The volume starts with an introduction to the alphabet used. There are five vowels (i, e, a, o, u) and each has a short and long form. They are represented in an International Phonetic Alphabet fashion, e.g. the i in kica ‘woman’ sounds ‘like e in English Pete’ (6). Sitimaxa has six stops (p, t, k, b, d, g), two nasals (m, n), two glides (w, y), a glottal stop and glottal fricative (q, h), two fricatives (s, x), and two affricates (c, j). Compared to other languages, liquids are absent and there are fewer fricatives.

Entries in the Sitimaxa-English part list the word in the standard orthography, followed by part of speech, syllable structure, phonemic transcription, and meaning with etymology. Sources are also given, to the 1802 Duralde, the 1880s Gatschet, and the twentieth century Swanton and Swadesh work. Their orthographic convention is also provided. An example of a simple entry is ‘gan part (gan) /kʔãn/ not’ (24) with the negative labeled a particle. Additional detail on negatives in Sitimaxa is provided in the English-Sitimaxa part. In this section, there are multiple entries on negatives that might require a closer linguistic analysis. A slightly more complex dictionary entry is ‘nenwivt (nen·wi-) /ne͂n-w-i-/ 1. remove from a container; 2. take out of a container (nen– ‘out of water’ + –w < –wa singular action + –i verbalizer) [Swd (47) nenwi-].

According to the Ethnologue, Sitimaxa is sometimes classified as an isolate but is listed as part of the Gulf language family alongside other extinct languages Tunica, Atakapa, and Natchez (http://www.ethnologue.com/show_family.asp?subid=2891-16). Having access to a good dictionary might also help shed light on the genetic relationships.