Gramática de la lengua guaymí (ngäbe)

Gramática de la lengua guaymí (ngäbe). By Miguel Angel Quesada Pacheco. (Languages of the world/materials 474.) Munich: LINCOM Europa, 2008. Pp. 190. ISBN 9783895861239. $90 (Hb).

Reviewed by Peter Freeouf, Chiang Mai University

Guaymi, a member of the Chibcha family, is spoken natively by around 165,000 people in Panama and by another 2,500 in neighboring Costa Rica. The data for this grammar was collected from one village in the district of San Felix de Chiriqui in Panama.

Following a short introduction, which provides a brief summary of the basic ethnographic details of the Guaymi-speaking community and of previous studies of this language, the book is divided into four sections: phonology, nominal morphology, verbal morphology, and syntax. A three-page bibliography completes the volume. Numerous tables and charts throughout this book provide convenient overviews and summaries of the basic facts of the phonology, morphology, and syntax of Guaymi.

The discussion of phonology (23–48) includes a delineation of the segmental phonemes. Guaymi has a rich vowel system, which consists of eight oral and eight nasal vowels as well as several diphthongs. Morphologically conditioned vowel harmony is a prominent feature of this language, and word stress is phonemic. The author maintains that lexical tone is not a phonemic feature of the language, contrary to what earlier studies have suggested.

The chapter on nominal morphology (49–98) discusses word classes such as nouns, adjectives, adverbs, pronouns, conjunctions, postpositions, and quantifiers. Interrogative and negative particles are also included here. Plurality may be indicated by the particle tre, but this overt marker is omitted when other quantifying words are present. Nouns are divided into fifteen semantically-based classes, each of which has a specific classifier to which cardinal numerals are suffixed. These classifiers are used only to enumerate entities. An interrogative suffix, –bi, can also be added to the base forms of classifiers to form interrogative quantifiers (e.g. ‘how much’, ‘how many’). These classifiers, with a suffixed numeral or interrogative particle, occur to the right of the noun.

The section on verbal morphology (99–145) discusses the formal features of the verb system. The Guaymi verb lacks morphological marking of person. Plurality can be optionally indicated by the use of the plural particle tre, which occurs to the right of the verb. Verb forms are categorized along two intersecting axes: realis/irrealis and tense. The realis includes events that the speaker considers as realized or as in the process of being realized. The irrealis indicates events that may potentially be realized. The realis and irrealis categories are further divided in terms of time: atemporal (i.e. indefinite time and aspect) and temporal. In the realis category, the temporal forms include the recent past tense, the remote past tense, the perfect tense, and the testimonial past tense. The irrealis includes an immediate future tense and a remote future tense. Lexical verbs are divided into three classes, or conjugations, based on the form of the indefinite realis.

The section on verbal morphology also discusses the relative frequency of the various verb forms in a narrative corpus gathered by the author. Together, the recent past and the indefinite realis account for over two thirds of all verb forms that occur in the corpus. Other topics in this section include verb derivation, verb compounds, passives and mediopassives, Aktionsart (modality), subjectless verbs, copulative verbs, intransitive verbs, and verbs with dative subjects (i.e. experiencer or beneficiary subjects).

The section on syntax (147–85) concludes the grammar. Word order is underlyingly subject-object-verb, with noun phrases characterized by adjectives that occur to the right of nouns (NA) and demonstratives that occur to the right of nouns and adjectives (NA Dem) as well as to the right of nouns and numerals (N Num Dem). Guaymi follows an ergative-absolutive pattern. The author, however, characterizes this ergativity as ‘restricted’ (160) because verbs of perception (as well as some others) take dative subjects. Coordination and clausal subordination are discussed in the final section of this chapter.

This book is a detailed and well-organized descriptive grammar of Guaymi. Providing a wealth of examples, it is well-written and easy to follow, with a minimum of theoretical jargon.