Ute reference grammar

Ute reference grammar. By Talmy Givón. (Culture and language use 3.) Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2011. Pp. xxiii, 441. ISBN 9789027202840. $165 (Hb).

Reviewed by Edward Vajda, Western Washington University

This full-length grammar of an endangered Numic language spoken in eastern Utah and western Colorado is the culmination of nearly four decades of documentation work by the author in collaboration with native speakers and community educators. Though the description is thoroughly informed by the best traditions of functional grammar, the book was clearly composed with an eye toward using the material for creating language teaching and learning tools as part of ongoing revitalization efforts. To ensure accessibility to an audience broader than theoretical linguists, each section begins with a brief introduction to the general linguistic concepts treated within. All Ute example forms are provided with hyphens indicating morpheme breaks, which elucidate the language’s structure even in the absence of interlinear morpheme glossing. Unresolved problems of a theoretical nature, such as the conditioning factor governing the cooccurrence of uvular allophones of velar /k/ with the dorsal allophone [o] of the phoneme /ɵ/ (18), are mentioned succinctly without becoming the main focus of description. In general, the book succeeds impressively in addressing two audiences: theoretical linguists and pedagogues.

One of the book’s strong points is the attention each section gives to language usage in context. Clear examples illustrate the actual discourse functions of every formal morphological or syntactic category described. Grammatical terminology is always accompanied by clear explanations of carefully chosen example words or sentences. The reader is never left with the task of extrapolating the probable functional content of the language’s formal grammatical categories by analogy with similar terminology used in the description of other languages. For example, the Ute verb system contains a form called the ‘immediate aspect’ (121–23) that in its usage subsumes much of the semantic range of the English present progressive and present perfect forms, but also can be used to express a vivid example when narrating the distant past. The examples in this section superbly illustrate these various uses, so that similarities and distinctions between the Ute immediate aspect and the semantically overlapping English verb forms are fully explicated. Emphasis on pedagogy is evident on nearly every page.

Another valuable feature of the grammar that warrants mention here is the attention paid to the language’s historical development. Most chapters conclude with observations on the morphological origins of the structures described, or included notes on the rise of morphosyntactic patterns. The chapter-length treatments of the origins of Ute case marking (93–115) and passive constructions (263–72) are particularly illuminating. This information not only helps explain synchronic usage, but also ties the reference grammar into broader functional and typological studies of grammaticalization patterns. It also better integrates the book into the rich tradition of Uto-Aztecan historical linguistics.

This reference grammar succeeds as a theoretical description as well as a resource for creating future pedagogical materials. It is planned as the first volume of a three-part work, to be followed by a dictionary and collection of texts. Together these volumes should provide a firm foundation for the practical and scholarly study of Ute language for years to come.