Subordination and coordination strategies in North Asian languages

Subordination and coordination strategies in North Asian languages. (Current issues in linguistic theory 300.) Ed. by Edward J. Vajda. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2008. Pp. xii, 218. ISBN 9789027248169. $158 (Hb).

Reviewed by Michael W MorganIGNOU, New Delhi

This book, arising out of the Third International Symposium on Languages Spoken in Europe and North and Central Asia (Tomsk, 2006), deals with a wide variety of subordinate and/or coordinate constructions in a wide variety of North Asian languages. Bernard Comrie’s introduction lays out a typology of complex sentence patterns, focusing on instances where the distinction between subordination and coordination is fuzzy, and taking his illustrations from a distinctly non–North-Asian language, Haruai (Papuan).

Nearly the full range of genetic families found in North Asia is represented in this book. Altaic is represented by (i) Tungusic Udeghe, confusingly also referred to in the running head as Udihe (Maria Tolskaya and Inna Tolskaya, ); (ii) Turkic Kumyk, a European Turkic language analogous to North Asian Turkic (Linda Humnick); and (iii) Korean, together with Russian and English (Elena Rudnitskaya and Elena Uryson). Uralic is represented by Eastern Khanty, with chapters by Andrei Filtchenko and by Olga Potanina, and by two Samoyedic languages, Northern Selkup (Riita-Liisa Valijärvi) and Forest Enets (Olesya Khanina and Andrey Shluinsky). The isolate Ainu is discussed by Anna Bugaeva, and the Yenesei Ostyak language Ket is discussed by Edward J. Vajda and by Marina Zinn. Eskimo-Aleut, represented within North Asia by Siberian Yupik, is dealt with in this book by Osahito Miyaoka‘s discussion of a non-Asian variety, Central Alaskan Yupik.

Two additional chapters cover languages falling outside the scope of the book’s title (but not the symposium generating the book). Sandra Birzer’s chapter deals with Russian, which, while not usually thought of as a North Asian language, has become a dominant (and dominating) language throughout all of Siberia, often to the detriment of many indigenous languages. Finally, Nina Dobrushina’s chapter is more broadly typological, and deals with a number of languages of Eastern Europe: Russian, Aghul, Estonian, Hungarian, Bulgarian, and Turkish.

As Edward Vajda notes in his foreword (vii–xi), the constructions discussed in this volume divide almost evenly between analytic patterns (used for both coordination and subordination, described in chapters on Ainu, Eastern Khanty, Kumyk, Forest Enets, Korean, and Udeghe), and synthetic patterns of suffixation (for subordination, in all remaining chapters). While there is a distinct focus on the range and use of morphosyntactic forms to express various coordinate and subordinate relations (including at times unexpected forms, like imperative forms discussed by Dobrushina or interrogatives by Tolskaya and Tolskaya), several chapters also bring semantics and pragmatics into the discussion. Filtchenko and Humnick each provide pragmatic motivation for the preference for finite versus non-finite forms to express subordinate adverbial clauses. Similarly, Rudnitskaya and Uryson propose a semantic rather than formal typology of coordination.

Several chapters (both on Eastern Khanty, that on Forest Enets, and Birzer’s chapter on Russian) include a diachronic perspective to explicate the synchronic patterns, with, for example, Khanina and Shluinsky proposing a strong Russian influence as motivating an increased preference for finite structures in Enets.

This book will be primarily of interest to syntacticians (and morphosyntacticians) and to linguists specializing in the languages of North Asia. Individual chapters will also be of interest to specialists in the individual languages.

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