A grammar of Teiwa

A grammar of Teiwa. By Marian Klamer. (Mouton grammar library 49.) Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton, 2010. Pp. xviii, 540. ISBN 9783110226065. $225 (Hb).

Reviewed by Elly van Gelderen, Arizona State University

Teiwa is an endangered language spoken on the island of Pantar in Eastern Indonesia, just North of Timor. Though still spoken by 4,000 people, it is being replaced by Malay and Standard Indonesian in the schools and churches so that most children no longer speak it. Since it and some of its neighbors are Papuan and not Austronesian languages, the question arises how the over twenty Alor-Pantar outlier languages are related to each other and possibly to the other Papuan languages some 1,000 kilometers away.

The book provides a very rich description of Teiwa in Ch. 1, ‘Introduction’. Marian Klamer presents an excellent description of the history, geology, linguistic situation and affiliations, and a typological sketch of Teiwa and its speakers. K discusses two main views on the genetic affiliation of the Alor-Pantar languages to the other Papuan ones: (i) originating from a Trans New Guinea family and moving further West, and (ii) assuming the languages on Alor and Pantar are ‘stay-behind’ descendants.

K shows that Teiwa is head-final with the verbs, conjunctions, and negatives occurring finally (the verb preceding the negative and conjunction). It has an accusative alignment but no Case. Additionally, it lacks adpositions but uses serial verb constructions. Teiwa has few affixes, realis and applicative markers on the verb, and it marks the person and number of animate objects. K concludes that the ‘phonology, morphology and syntax are relatively simple’ (30). K shows that Teiwa shares the head-final characteristic and the frequent use of serial verb constructions with other Papuan languages, but she also chronicles many differences, e.g. no gender, no bound subject, and no contrast between medial and final verbs, that make it ‘morpho-syntactically simpler than many other Papuan languages’ (31).

Ch. 2 ‘Phonology’ provides the phonemic inventory, the syllable structure, and stress assignment. Teiwa has eight vowels, eight stops (including a uvular and glottal stop), five fricatives (including a pharyngeal and glottal), two liquids, three nasals, and two glides.

Other aspects of the Teiwa grammar are presented in the following chapters: Ch. 3 ‘Word classes’, Ch. 4 ‘Grammatical relations’, Ch. 5 ‘The noun phrase’, Ch. 6 ‘Non-verbal clauses’, Ch. 7 ‘Verbal clauses: The marking of reality status, modality, and aspect’, Ch. 8 ‘Negative, interrogative, and imperative clauses’, Ch. 9 ‘Serial verb constructions’, Ch. 10 ‘Clause combinations’, and Ch. 11 ‘Information structure’.  Each chapter has a wonderful synopsis at the end. Anyone working on serial verbs, negatives, or interrogatives will benefit immensely from these chapters.

The grammar is based on primary field data, collected by K between 2003 and 2007. There are some glossed and translated Teiwa texts of various genres included, as well as a word list. It is another outstanding volume in the Mouton Grammar Library series, and will be extremely helpful to Papuan scholars, typologists, and general linguists.