Languages of the greater Himalayan region

Languages of the greater Himalayan region, Volume 1: Rabha. By U. V. Joseph. (Brill’s Tibetan studies library 1.) Leiden: Brill, 2007. Pp. xxxii, 864. ISBN 9789004133211. $310 (Hb).

Reviewed by Wolfgang Schulze, University of Munich.

This grammatical description explores the Róngdani dialect of Rabha (Rabatang), a Sino-Tibetan language spoken by roughly 70,000 people living in and around the Goalpara District in Assam, Eastern India. U. V. Joseph’s opulent book, which is based on extensive fieldwork, is the first comprehensive exploration of Rabha. This volume not only provides a grammatical sketch of the language but also includes eleven fully glossed texts (from both speech recordings and written texts) and a Rabha dictionary. Four maps help to locate the language geographically.

In the introduction (1–17), J describes the Rabha speakers and carefully discusses how the language fits into in the Tibeto-Burman taxonomy. The grammar is organized according to both standard descriptive patterns (e.g. J begins by discussing phonetics and phonology) and idiosyncratic features that stem from the grammatical architecture of Rabha. Ch. 1, ‘Sound level analysis’ (18–114), is an excellent presentation of Rabha phonetics and phonology. This analysis is extended in Ch. 2, ‘Phonological processes and morphemics’ (115–32).

Chs. 3–6 turn to grammatical and lexical issues. The lexical level is addressed in Ch. 3, ‘Lexical analysis’ (133–215). Here, J illustrates the formation of Rabha nouns and verbs using derivation and compounding. J’s lexical approach classifies causativization and passivization as derivational processes rather than as morphosyntactic issues. Ch. 4 presents a ‘Phrase level analysis’ (219–445). J begins by describing the Rabha verb system and then moves to an exhaustive presentation of Rabha pronouns and nouns (e.g. number and case marking). Classifier constructions are discussed at the end of this chapter. Ch. 5 concerns ‘Adjectives, adverbs, indeclinables’ (446–78), and syntactic issues are briefly addressed in Ch. 6 (479–88).

Ch. 7, ‘Correlative analysis of Bodo, Garo, and Rabha’ (489–663), compares Rabha with Bodo and Garo. J concentrates on phonetic and phonological issues but also examines nominal and verbal morphology. This section is useful not only because it presents a compelling argument for grouping Bodo and Garo but also because it illustrates the usefulness of the correlative method.

Ch. 8, ‘Sample Rabha texts’ (664–704), presents a collection of spoken and written texts in Rabha. Although interlinear glosses are provided with the translations, a morphological analysis is not included. Finally, the ‘Rabha vocabulary’ (705–843), which covers roughly 4,000 entries, often includes grammatical and cultural peculiarities.

J has produced a well-written and careful documentation of Rabha. His easy-to-read style avoids lengthy theoretical elaborations. This Rabha grammar will be appreciated by researchers from many fields of linguistics.