Morphosemantic number

Morphosemantic number: From Kiowa noun classes to UG number features. By Daniel Harbour. (Studies in natural language and linguistic theory 69.) Dordrecht: Springer, 2007. Pp. xvi, 216. ISBN 9781402050374. $139.

Reviewed by Wolfgang Schulze, University of Munich

In this volume, Daniel Harbour aims to provide a unified theory of number that uses syntax to link morphology and semantics. H’s volume is both an impressive treatise on the theoretical issues concerning number and a rich empirical study that takes its data from Kiowa, an indigenous and highly endangered Kiowa-Tanoan language spoken in Oklahoma.

Kiowa is famous for its so-called inverse number system. Each of Kiowa’s nine noun classes— which are identified by the interaction of number markers and agreement patterns of the corresponding verb—is associated with an inherent number feature. Atypical instances of number are marked by the inverse number morpheme. The corresponding analyses are based on morphology (i.e. number and agreement marking), semantics (i.e. number features), and syntax (i.e. agreement constraints). Such an analysis is not unique to Kiowa; it is also used for a number of languages that are sensitive to noun classification and agreement. However, specific to Kiowa is that most of the agreement markers are packed into a portmanteau morpheme that includes the values of both person and number.

H begins with an introductory chapter, ‘Framework’ (1–20), which provides both the theoretical and the empirical background, including helpful data on Kiowa. In Ch. 2, ‘Kiowa’s noun classes’ (21–59), H carefully describes the nine number-agreement classes of Kiowa, using mnemonic terminology. Accordingly, Kiowa nouns are classified morphosyntactically based on the threefold distinction of referential cardinality (i.e. one, two, three, and more). H argues that the individual classes are marked for strong semantic values such as humanness, animateness, and different types of inanimateness (e.g. self-propulsion, body parts, vegetal classes).

Ch. 3, ‘Number features’ (61–115), presents ‘an inventory of number features, properly semantically defined, together with a theory of their distribution and interaction in the syntax and their treatment in the morphology’ (61). In Ch. 4, ‘Agreement and suppletion’ (117–55), H turns to a second system of classificatory effects—namely, verbal suppletion, which usually operates in cooperation with the corresponding agreement pattern. Agreement markers are discussed in more detail in Ch. 5, ‘The agreement prefix’ (137–91). Here, H illustrates his micromorphology analysis: the large world of Kiowa agreement prefixes can be reduced semantically—and, considering allomorphic variation, formally—to basic features that are motivated by a unified morphosemantic theory of number.

The final chapter, ‘Conclusions and consequences’ (193–200), briefly evaluates the analyses and explores to what extent Kiowa is marked for a gender or a gender-number system. H compares the morphosemantics of Kiowa noun classes to the system of noun classification in Bantu. A full analysis of a Kiowa short story, ‘A Hunting Story’, is provided in the appendix. The volume closes with a bibliography and a name and subject index.

H’s book is an impressive investigation of the complex world of morphosemantics. However, the reader must be acquainted with the central claims and descriptive techniques of formal grammar to fully enjoy both the careful analyses and the Kiowa data.