A short grammar of Alorese (Austronesian)

A short grammar of Alorese (Austronesian). By Marian Klamer. (Languages of the world/materials 486.) Munich: LINCOM, 2011. Pp. 142. ISBN 9783862881727. $69.20.

Reviewed by Daniel W. Hieber, Rosetta Stone

This book is a short grammatical sketch of Alorese, a still-vital Austronesian (Malayo-Polynesian) language spoken by 25,000 speakers in Eastern Indonesia and used as a regional lingua franca until the mid-1970s. It is based on a small corpus (500 lexical items, three texts, and approximately 250 elicited sentences) collected by Marian Klamer in 2003. Since Alorese is both surrounded by Papuan languages and situated at some distance from its nearest genealogical relative, Lamaholot, the book examines Alorese from a primarily areal and diachronic perspective.

In the introduction, K shows that Alorese and Lamaholot share only between 52.6% and 58.6% lexical similarity and that Alorese has lost nearly all its inflectional and derivational morphology while gaining a new set of pronouns. The two languages are mutually unintelligible, which is apparently the effect of Alorese having undergone a period of ‘imperfect or second language learning’, presumably because of its status as a trade language. In Ch. 8, ‘Alorese from an areal perspective’, K determines that some Papuan features of Alorese are due to reflexes of Papuan influences on Proto-Lamaholot, while others are due to more recent, direct contact. An appendix provides a 270-word lexical comparison of Alorese and Lamaholot, as well as two glossed texts.

Standard grammatical topics comprise the rest of the book: phonology, nouns and noun phrases, verbs, clause structure, sentence types, and clause combinations. K shows that Alorese is nominative-accusative in its alignment (indicated via word order) and exhibits no distinct category of adjective. The only productive morphological process is reduplication, and zero-derivation is rampant. The language has no indigenous means of marking relative clauses (K does not say whether it has other, borrowed techniques), nor is there a formal means of indicating complementation, making Alorese of potential theoretical interest for its syntactic simplicity.

For such a small corpus, this sketch is impressive, and constitutes a worthy contribution to the linguistics of East Indonesia. The book does, however, show problems common to books in LINCOM’s languages of the world series, including typos, formatting problems, and inconsistency in glosses, glossing styles, and fonts. It is fairly expensive for a small paperback and is not available in digital format. Its double-spaced text means that much of the book is white space. As far as content, it is disappointing that only two of the three texts are included in the appendix, and only half the lexical items, when such a small corpus could have been included in its entirety. Although the work is only a short sketch, many sections could have been much improved with minimal elaboration, such as the details of the alienable-inalienable possession or the demonstrative system. K also adopts a non-International Phonetic Alphabet orthography, but it is unclear whether this orthography is pedagogical (for the purpose of local literacy) or practical (for ease of typing).

In sum, these problems are relatively minor, and perhaps understandable. The book is an excellent overview of the previously undescribed Alorese language and is recommended for anyone interested in the linguistics of East Indonesia, language simplification through contact, languages purported to lack an adjective class, or languages with little evidence for clausal complements.