The Yearbook of South Asian Languages and Linguistics

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Forwarded from LINGUIST List 16.2054, Sat Jul 02 2005

The Yearbook of South Asian Languages and Linguistics
Date: 01-Jul-2005
From: Sanford Steever <sbsteever at>

EDITOR: Singh, Rajendra
TITLE: The Yearbook of South Asian Languages and Linguistics
PUBLISHER: Mouton de Gruyter
YEAR: 2004
Announced at

Sanford B. Steever, unaffiliated scholar


The latest in a series of yearbooks, "The Yearbook of South Asian
Languages and Linguistics" 2004 is more than a simple collection of
papers. It contains invited articles, referred papers, regional reports,
book reviews, and dialogs, all aimed at giving the reader a cross- section
of the state of current and on-going research on the languages and
linguistics of the South Asian linguistic area.


The first of two invited articles, Donegan and Stampe's "Rhythm and the
synthetic drift of Munda" (pp. 3-36) puts forth the thesis that many of
the features of Munda languages that are traditionally said to be Indic
are due less to areal influence from Indo-Aryan and Dravidian languages
and more to a shift from a rising to a falling phrase and word rhythm that
accompanies, if not precipitates, correlative shifts in other levels of
grammar, such as a change from head-initial to head- final marking and a
drift from analysis to synthesis. The various changes in Munda are
contrasted with other Austro-Asiatic languages not found in South Asia, as
well as Indo-Aryan and Dravidian. The changes within Munda are held to be
primarily the result of internal changes within the various languages,
with areal influence playing at best a secondary role.

Singh and Singh's paper, "The possible and the impossible in Bengali word
formation: some problems in nominalization (pp. 37-53)," looks at three
kinds of nominalization that a Bangla verb can undergo. The authors seek
to determine why some verbs, but not others, undergo the individual kinds
of nominalization. While no specific motivations can be teased out for
individual variations, the authors determine that certain nominalizations
are slowly spreading through the lexicon.

Annamalai's first paper, "Case and argument structure in Tamil (pp.
57-99)," discusses the alignment in Tamil of case marking, semantic roles
and argument structure. He broadly construes case marking to include bound
case suffixes, postpositions and complexes of suffixes and postpositions.
He presents and discusses several discontinuities between these three
dimensions of linguistic structure, incidentally providing one of the most
extensive treatments of case and case marking in Tamil yet to appear.

Paul's "The semantics of Bangla compound verbs" (pp.101-111)  studies
whether certain Bangla compound verb constructions can be brought under
the heading of aspect, broadly construed, by using Langacker's concept of
profiling. The aspectual verb in such compounds typically profiles a
specific facet of the event named by the verb it modifies, whereas using
the simple, unmodified "main" verb by itself does not provide such a

Vasisth's "Discourse content and word order preferences in Hindi"  (pp.
113-127) attempts to determine what kinds of processing factors condition
the acceptability of certain Hindi sentences with non- canonical word
order. He examines the distance hypothesis, i.e., the greater the raw
distance between a dependent and its head, the more difficulty in
processing, as against the discourse context hypothesis, which claims that
as the number of new referents between dependents and heads increases, the
greater the difficulty in processing. Through a series of experiments
designed to clarify the empirical consequences of the two hypotheses,
Vasisth shows that the two appear to be differentially sensitive to the
distinction between indirect objects and direct objects.

The first of the regional reports, Peterson's "Europe" (pp. 131-144) is a
discussion of the recent scholarly literature on South Asian languages and
linguistics originating from Europe-based scholars.  While Indo-Aryan,
Tibeto-Burman and Austro-Asiatic are well enough represented, Dravidian is
not. As with the other regional reports, it provides a strong

Annamalai's second contribution, "An interpretive survey of Tamil studies
in Tamil (pp. 145-162)," looks at two distinct ways in which the Tamil
language is approached and studied in Tamil language publications. While
there are examples of modern linguistic studies of the language, much of
what appears is written by language mavens, traditionalists or pundits.
With some notable exceptions, the insights of modern linguistics appear
not to have deeply penetrated Tamil language publishing.

Bhatia's "North America" (pp. 163-172) looks at articles, books and
dissertations originating in North America, predominantly the United
States. Here Dravidian is better served. One important issue Bhatia takes
up is the development of interactive teaching materials for South Asian
languages. In the course of this discussion, he laments the lack of
non-western fonts by commercial enterprises. This is, of course, becoming
less of a problem as fonts and font libraries are developed here and in
South Asia.

Kandiah's contribution (pp. 173-196) discusses how the ideology of
postcolonialism is affecting language scholarship and language teaching in
contemporary Sri Lanka, a debate that has many echoes throughout the
subcontinent. Much of the article treats attempts to disengage the use of
English as part of Sri Lanka's colonial heritage, and the consequences of
doing so, particularly in the field of education.

Smith, Paauw and Hussainmiya's article on Sri Lanka Malay (pp. 173- 215)
is a very valuable introduction to a Malay-based creole in Sri Lanka that
has been strongly influenced by Tamil (where one can distinguish between
Tamil and Sinhala in terms of typology). This article provides a
thumb-nail sketch of the language and its community, and points out
several pertinent areas for future research.

The five book reviews include Bakker's review of Bhaskararao and
Subbarao's "The Tokyo symposium on South Asian languages" (pp.  217-223),
Lindstedt's review of "Dasgupta, Ford and Singh's "After etymology:
Towards a substantive linguistics" (pp. 224-225), Bubenik's review of
Deshpande and Hook's "Indian linguistic studies.  Festschrift in honor of
George Cardona" (pp. 229-235), Itiaz Hasnain's review of Itagi and Singh's
"Linguistic landscaping in India with particular reference to the new
states" (pp. 236-238) and Zuckermann's review of Kuczkiewicz-Fras'
"Perso-Arabic hybrids in Hindi" (pp. 239-244). These reviews appear, on
the whole, to be well- balanced readings of the books.

Two final contributions round out this volume. Hasnain and Rajyashree's
"Hindustani as an Anxiety between Hindi-Urdu Commitment" and Trivedi's
"The anxiety of Hindustani" are both ruminations on historical, political
and sociological factors behind the convergence and divergence of Hindi
and Urdu. These two chapters may be seen as an often impassioned dialog
concerning the polarization of two varieties of a language along social
and national lines. The concern over the loss of Urdu as a medium in post-
Independence India recalls to me the laments of Mughal poets over the loss
of a courtly society (three hundred years ago), underlining the fact that
language loyalty in South Asia is often emotionally informed.


Donegan and Stampe's paper adds to the growing literature that is
skeptical of the primary role of areal influence in the development of
individual South Asian languages. In footnote 13, they observe approvingly
that my 1993 study of object marking in certain Dravidian verbs is not
exactly paralleled by the incorporation of pronominal objects in Munda
languages. In my paper, "Morphological convergence in the Khondmals
(Steever 1981)," I present a more elaborate case for the independent
development of object-marking verbs in Dravidian and Munda, rather than
having one directly influence the other.

Singh and Singh's paper conjectures that some forms of nominalization they
cover are spreading through the lexicon, but do not identify the
grammatical (sociolinguistic?) channels through which they are spreading.
This chapter has the feeling of being an appendix to a larger project, one
which I hope we will see. Reading was greatly hampered by the fact that
none of the Bangla words are provided with translations, which will render
the article largely opaque to non-Bangla speakers.

In connection with Annamalai's first paper, my paper "Noun incorporation
in Tamil (Steever 1981)," discusses certain nouns that are incorporated
into verbs (and appear in the nominative case) but do not directly reflect
semantic roles or argument structure. That such forms have any case
marking, the unmarked nominative case, reflects the fact that as nouns in
Tamil, these predicates must be pronounced with nominal morphology.
Controlling for this in a further development of the ideas put forth in
his chapter would allow the author to hone in more closely on argument
structure and semantic roles. There is one misspelling: p. 61 nalllavaanaa
should be nallavaanaa.

With the small sample of Bangla forms in Paul's brief article, it is
difficult to determine whether the specifications he ascribes to certain
auxiliary, or vector, verbs tend more toward lexical idiosyncrasies or
grammatical generalizations. A larger sampling, the use of "negative data"
and attention to Vendler-type categories such as accomplishment,
achievement, etc. may permit the author eventually to make more specific

The issue of documenting endangered languages, of which there are many in
the subcontinent, is addressed directly only in Smith, Paauw and
Hussainmiya's article and obliquely in Bhatia's report. The latter
presents a synopsis of Gail Coelho's University of Texas dissertation on
the Dravidian language Betta Kurumba. Given the devastation of the
December 26 tsunami to marginal communities and, therefore, to their
languages, particularly in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, I hope that
future volumes in this series will want to take up this important topic
with more of a focus.

Overall, the contents of the volume reflect the broad diversity of
linguistic perspectives scholars bring to bear on the languages of the
subcontinent. Descriptive, areal, historical, psycholinguistic and other
orientations are currently being brought to bear on South Asia's
languages. It is, in fact, a pleasure to read a collection whose
constituent articles do not all revolve around a specific grammatical
theme or theoretical framework. The editor has done a fine job in making
these studies and concerns available to general linguists.

The one significant problem with this volume, as with its immediate
predecessor, is the lack of an index. Given the number of indexing
utilities currently available to publishers, this oversight ought not
persist in subsequent volumes.


Steever, Sanford. 1981. Selected papers in Tamil and Dravidian
linguistics. Madurai: Muttu Patippakam.

Steever, Sanford. 1993. Analysis to synthesis: The development of
complex verb forms in Dravidian. Oxford and New York: Oxford
University Press.


Sanford Steever's interests include syntax, morphology and historical
linguistics. He has studied and researched various languages of South
Asia, including Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Pali, Sinhala, Kodagu and Kurux.
His book, "The Tamil auxiliary verb system," is being released this

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