The Yawuru language of West Kimberley

The Yawuru language of West Kimberley: A meaning-based description. By Komei Hosokawa. Munich: LINCOM Europa, 2011. Pp. 531. ISBN 9783862880935. $104.

Reviewed by Michael W. Morgan, National Federation of the Deaf Nepal

Yawuru, spoken in West Kimberley (northwest Australia) is a highly agglutinative language. Noun derivation occurs by suffixation and case marking is enclitic; verbs have from 1–4 prefixes and 0–5 suffixes. Complex verbal morphology allows for simple clause structure, with a single verb expressing a complex argument and event structure, and also allows for relatively loose word order. Yawuru also manifests split cross-referencing (i.e. ergative noun inflection but accusative verb agreement).

This book is a revision of the author’s 1991 dissertation. Ch. 1 (1–17) provides an introduction to the language, its dialects, and its speakers. This is followed by a brief preview (Ch. 2, 18–41) of many of the remarkable features of the language. Ch. 2 includes a detailed treatment of phonology (42–112). Yawuru, unusual among Australian languages, has word-final tense/lax and three-way dorsal voicing contrasts. It also has a number of extra-systemic sounds and special phonation types.

A chapter on verbal morphology and semantics (113–98) follows. In Yawuru, all predicates must be verbal. As noted above, conjugation involves a number of prefix and suffix/enclitic slots. Prefixes include subject, mood/tense, number, conjugation class, and reflexive; suffixes/enclitics include reciprocal, aspect, comitative, dative-imperative or subordinative (but not both), (accusative/dative) object, and vocative. Affixes generally follow this order, although future and irrealis differ slightly. Although inflecting (finite) verb roots are obligatory, indicating argument structure, they are few in number (82). Their limited number is compensated by a large number of preverbs added to finite verbs to make complex verbs. Preverbs are the subject of Ch. 5 (199–236).

Ch. 6 (237–89), concerns the semantics of case-marking and related issues. Case is marked on phrase-initial constituents rather than heads. This results in serialized (so-called double) case marking, when the marked constituent is initial in both the main and imbedded noun phrase, and each has a separate case function. Yawuru, with its loose word order, also allows for phrasal discontinuity.Pronouns are discussed in Ch. 7 (290–350). They include absolutive and genitive free forms, and accusative and dative enclitics. Demonstratives, interrogatives, and indefinites are also treated in this chapter.

Adverbs are the topic of Ch. 8 (351–400). Yawuru possesses a range of both uninflecting and inflecting adverbs. In addition, sentence adverbs include epistemic, deontic, and epistemological adverbs. Reduplication, discussed in the following chapter (401–17), is used extensively in nominals, finite verbs, and onomatopoeic words; it expresses a range of concepts but is not a fully productive part of the morphology. The final chapter, ‘Syntax’ (418–84), describes various simple and coordinative sentence types, including passive, quasi-passive, and a number of special identity-sensitive types (e.g. double subject and double object).

Finally, the book contains a bibliography (485–507), three appendices (two short analyzed and glossed texts, 508–11), a list of bound morphemes with their glosses and function (512–14), and a list of minimal and near-minimal pairs (515–24). No topical (or other) index is provided. All grammatical forms are illustrated with copious examples. The extensive footnotes are useful, especially those that point to dialect features and to cases of similarity (or differences) with related and area languages.