Kabardian (East Circassian)

Kabardian (East Circassian). By John Colarusso. (Languages of the world/materials 200.) Munich: LINCOM Europa, 2006. Pp. 128. ISBN 9783895862458. $80.

Reviewed by Yury A. Lander, Institute of Oriental Studies, Moscow

Kabardian is a polysynthetic Northwest Caucasian language spoken primarily in the North Caucasus, although it is also found throughout the Near East. Throughout his career, John Colarusso has published several monographs devoted to Northwest Caucasian languages and folklore, including A grammar of the Kabardian language (Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 1992). The new material introduced here ensures that this is not just an abridged version of C’s previous grammar of the language.

Within this sketch, C provides a grammatical introduction to Kabardian. He discusses its rather complex phonetics and phonology as well as its even more tangled morphology, syntax, and discourse patterns. The six chapters are followed by a large sample text and a bibliography that includes publications on Kabardian written both in English and in Russian.

Kabardian is a linguistically complex language that contains as many as forty-nine consonants (and only three vowels) and is able to cross-reference of up to four arguments within the predicate. Here, C does not attempt to describe thoroughly all of Kabardian’s linguistic structures but instead discusses only its most exceptional features.

Although Kabardian is a polysynthetic language, and polysynthetic grammars are often organized differently than nonpolysynthetic grammars, C nonetheless seeks to present a traditional description of the language that distinguishes between inflectional and derivational morphology, and describes syntax in a more or less standard way. In general, the description of morphology and syntax provided in this text is often more readable than the corresponding sections in C’s earlier grammar.

The main shortcomings of this volume perhaps result from the format of the series in which it was published. For instance, the concise format may not have allowed C to detail phenomena as deserved, and thus, C’s explanations are not always well supported. For example, the underlying form of a word is occasionally markedly different from its surface form, which renders C’s analysis doubtable. Additionally, Kabardian is usually described as far more agglutinative than C depicts it.

Although this volume is too brief to be used as a reference grammar of Kabardian, this sketch will stimulate interest in Northwest Caucasian languages and promote a better understanding of their structure.