Book Reviews

in Sibirica
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Lenore A. GrenobleDepartment of Linguistics, University of Chicago, Arctic Linguistic Ecology Lab, North-Eastern Federal University, Yakutsk

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Adam Roth SingermanSyracuse University

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Eveny, Evenskii Iazyk, Fonetika, Grafika i Orfografiia, Morfologiia [Evens, Even language, Phonetics, Graphemes and Orthography, Morphology.] A.A. Burykin and S.I. Sharina. (Novosibirsk: Nauka, 2021), 402 pp. ISBN: 978–5–02–041468–6.

Strategies for Knowledge Elicitation: The Experience of the Russian School of Field Linguistics T. B. Agranat and L. R. Dodykhudoeva (eds.) (Springer Nature, 2021), 192 pp. ISBN: 978-3-030-79340-1.

Eveny, Evenskii Iazyk, Fonetika, Grafika i Orfografiia, Morfologiia [Evens, Even language, Phonetics, Graphemes and Orthography, Morphology.] A.A. Burykin and S.I. Sharina. (Novosibirsk: Nauka, 2021), 402 pp. ISBN: 978–5–02–041468–6.

The publication of this grammar by A. A. Burykin and S. I. Sharina (B&S) is a most welcome addition to the study of Even, a northwest Tungusic language spoken primarily in northeastern Russia, mostly in the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) but with smaller speaker communities in Magadan and Kamchatka. The grammar is the work of two eminently qualified authors. Aleksei Burykin, whose untimely passing in January 2021 preceded the publication of the book, was a leading specialist in Even, with a sound knowledge of its linguistic structure and completely conversant in the language. Sardana Sharina is herself a native speaker and highly qualified linguist, and a specialist in Even, so this was a dream team of authors. The result of their collaborative work is an excellent reference grammar of Even; it is sure to become the main reference of the language (if it has not already done so).

Even is the most robustly spoken of the Tungusic languages in Russia, with approximately 23 per cent of the ethnic population speaking the language and children in some places continuing to learn the language and use it at home. Although it has been the subject of significant linguistic research, and although it might seem that there are ample reference materials on Even (as the extensive bibliography in this book suggests), in fact the lack of a comprehensive, up-to-date reference grammar is a glaring gap. Tsintsius published her reference grammar in 1947; since then, it has served as the main description of the language, with more recent publications focusing on specific dialects—such as Novikova (1960) on the Ola dialect, and Robbek (1989) on the Berezovka dialect. Each is considerably shorter, about half the length of B&S. In English there is no full grammar: Malchukov (1995) is a brief sketch; Pakendorf and Aralova (2022) provide a succinct contrast of Even to Evenki and Negidal, but this is a book chapter, not a full grammar. The present publication promises to be the standard reference for Even: it provides as comprehensive a treatment of phonetics, phonology, and morphology as possible at this time, given the current state of research on the language. It also gives a sense of existing gaps in our knowledge, providing a useful roadmap for future work.

The body of the book is divided into three (very) large chapters, mirroring the promises of the title: (1) phonetics; (2) orthography; and (3) morphology. Of these, the longest is the chapter on morphology, but each is more properly considered a subsection of the book, as even the shortest chapter (phonetics) approaches one hundred pages in length. Each is subdivided into sections that focus on specific topics. I would have liked to see this organized somewhat differently, treating each chapter as a subsection within the book, and the different subsections of the current chapters as chapters in their own right, but this more a result of my own preference for having numbered sections for easier reference. An appendix with 28 morphological tables provides representative paradigms that illustrate morphophonemic changes in sample words.

B&S present us a thorough description of phonetics, phonology, and morphology, as the title suggests. The section on phonetics and phonology is quite thorough, with discussions of the phonemic inventory, phonemic alternations, and morphophonology. This includes a most welcome discussion of syllabic phonology, distinguishing between root and inflectional morphemes. As B&S note, there has not been any previous research focused on the study of Even intonation, and their book here largely reiterates Novikova's (1960: 89–92) analysis. It is an honest report, and shows how useful a grammar can be in highlighting areas where further research is needed.

This is followed by a discussion of orthoepy, or the “correct” pronunciation of a language. The use of the term itself flags a difference in theoretical approaches to reference grammars in Russia and the West. B&S are largely focused on a normative grammar of a standardized (literary) language, although they do begin this discussion with a comment that orthoepy has not been studied for the minority Indigenous languages of Russia. B&S use the notion of orthoepy to provide a springboard for a discussion of genres and speaking styles where the norm is flouted, including everyday speech, folklore, dialects, and individual variation. As with prosody, the discussion here provides a starting point for more research.

The section on orthography and writing conventions (and controversies) distinguishes this grammar from others. It is quite extensive, almost 130 pages long. The chapter begins with a more comprehensive discussion of early writing (and translation) of Even than I have seen elsewhere, tracing the early writing of Even to Bible translations of the mid-1800s, and then follows the development to the present. This is a complicated story that continues to resonate today: there are ongoing debates about the orthography, with some Even using different systems, which may surprise others, given the relatively small speaker base. Even are not united in matters of orthography.

B&S map out how we got to this point. The first Bible translations were done on the basis of the Ola dialect, which went on to serve as the basis of the standard language when Even, like other unwritten Northern languages, went through a period of standardization in the early Soviet years. The orthography went through several periods of codification during the Soviet period. In 1931–1932, like other languages of the North, Even was written in the Unified Northern Alphabet, a Roman-based system; it was used exclusively for the publication of pedagogical materials and literature in the period 1932–1936. But newspapers used both alphabets, writing the left-hand column in Roman and the right-hand columns in Cyrillic, a practice that continued until 1939.

In 1937, the writing system was officially changed to Cyrillic, with Russian-based Cyrillic serving as the foundational orthography without additional letters. The use in Even of phonemes not found in Russian necessitated the creation of additional means for marking these differences, such as the use of a digraph нг to signal the velar nasal consonant /ŋ/, a practice that continued until 1958, when a special Cyrillic character ӈ was instituted. Interestingly, the orthography was not officially documented, but was described in Tsintsius (1947) as part of her reference grammar of Even. Yet the writing system does not actually settle into a widely-accepted norm, and a number of variant letters continue to be used, in particular for those sounds not found in Russian. The velar nasal is one, as Even living in areas in contact with Chukchi or Sakha speakers would use ҥ or н’, not ӈ, under the influence of neighboring writing systems. (These norms change: Chukchi uses both н’ and ӈ in its most recent orthography.) The differing systems, up until 1958, are neatly summarized in Table 9 (p. 128).

This changed in 1958 when an official alphabet was adopted, a system which is still in use today by many, but not all, Even. At present, those Even living in contact with Sakha often speak more Sakha than they do Even, and the use of a Sakha-based writing system is natural. But for Even living in Kamchatka and Magadan, this does not make sense, and they essentially use the 1958 system, with some regional specifics (p. 147). This means that Even write to other Even using different systems; Table 10 (p. 138) illustrates how one and the same word is written differently in the competing variants over time.

This section is a fascinating read about the ups and downs of the development of writing and standardization in a minority language that is continually in contact with another majority language that dominates in education and most official writing spaces. For readers unfamiliar with the language and meeting these issues for the first time, it may be confusing, as there are many small differences, but the writing is clear and the differences neatly mapped out in tables. The official, codified writing system takes up a major (chapter-like) section of its own; there is a useful discussion of punctuation, which explains that the Even system follows the basic norms for Russian. This chapter concludes with a detailed discussion of the challenges of orthographic reform and the ongoing controversies. This is one of the hottest issues for Even users, and B&S provide a thoughtful overview of the questions.

The last part of the book is devoted to morphology. Even is an agglutinative language, and thus it comes as no surprise that this is the longest section of the book. B&S provide a comprehensive overview of inflectional morphology, clearly written, with brief definitions of usage. It is organized by grammatical category, following the order that readers will recognize from other grammars of Even or other languages written in a Russian linguistic tradition—that is, nominal morphology followed by verbal morphology, with verbal morphology organized according to mood. The extensive participles and converbs in Even are given separate subsections. The chapter on morphology concludes with sections on adverbs, postpositions and relational nouns, and conjunctions. Finally, there is a discussion about the relationship between the standard language and the Ola dialect which served as its basis when it was created (pp. 369–370). B&S point to differences between the two, such as 13 cases in the standard variety, and up to 15 in the dialect, an additional adjectival morpheme, and more converb forms in the dialect, and so on. As a general rule of thumb, the standard language has somewhat fewer forms than the dialect in multiple categories.

This is by far the most thorough treatment in one single volume, and with its publication has become the authoritative reference on Even. It is clear and comprehensive. If I could change one thing in the volume, it would be the overall presentation of data, which is given in running text rather than separated from the discussion. Word-by-word translations are provided; morphemic glossing would be a terrific addition. It would be easier to read if the examples were set off by line spaces, indented, and with aligned glosses. This would, however, double the book in length, so perhaps it is not practical. B&S do not discuss syntax, except as it arises with regard to morphology, and a second volume devoted to syntax would be a terrific contribution.

Lenore A. Grenoble

Department of Linguistics, University of Chicago

Arctic Linguistic Ecology Lab, North-Eastern Federal University, Yakutsk

References

  • Malchukov, Andrei. 1995. Even. Munich: Lincom.

  • Novikova, K. A.. 1960. Ocherki dialektov evenskogo iazyka: Ol'skii govor. Chast’ 1. Moscow: AN SSR.

  • Pakendorf, Brigitte, and Natalia Aralova. 2020. “Even and the Northern Tungusic languages.” In The Oxford Guide to the Transeurasian Languages, ed. by Martine Robbeets and Alexander Savelyev, 288304. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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  • Robbek, V. A. 1989. Iazyk evenov Berezovki. Leningrad: Nauka.

  • Tsintsius, V. I. 1947. Ocherki grammatiki evenskogo (lamutskogo) iazyka. Leningrad: Uchpedgiz.

Strategies for Knowledge Elicitation: The Experience of the Russian School of Field Linguistics T. B. Agranat and L. R. Dodykhudoeva (eds.) (Springer Nature, 2021), 192 pp. ISBN: 978-3-030-79340-1.

Although my own specialization is in the Indigenous languages of Amazonia, I am always curious about the methodology that field linguists employ in other regions of the world—and about the challenges that face researchers working in those regions. So I am very glad to have read Strategies for Knowledge Elicitation: The Experience of the Russian School of Field Linguistics, edited by Tatiana B. Agranat and Leyli R. Dodykhudoeva, which provides a genuinely interesting look into the wide range of methodologies utilized by Russia-based linguists during and after the Soviet period.

The book contains an introduction plus thirteen chapters, divided into four different parts: (I) Field Methods and Approaches Based on a Case Study of the Languages in European Russia: Theory and Methodology; (II) Case Studies from the Eastern Region of the Russian Federation; (III) Post-Soviet Space: Fieldwork in the Western Pamir; and (IV) Experiences of Fieldwork Worldwide. For reasons of space, I do not provide a chapter-by-chapter review, instead focusing on recurring themes that may be of interest to Sibirica's readership.

Scholars and students belonging to the Russian School have undertaken research on an extremely diverse range of languages. Language families represented in Parts I through III include Uralic (Permic, Finnic, and Samoyedic branches), Turkic (Chuvash), Yeniseic (Ket), Tungusic (Evenki), Chukotko-Kamchatkan (Chukchi), Sinitic (Mandarin Chinese), and Indo-European (Iranian branch, plus Russian itself). Part IV discusses languages that are much more distant, in particular, multiple minority languages of Vietnam and one of Mexico's Mayan languages (Huastec). The discussion of the structure of so many distinct languages and of different speech communities’ sociolinguistic profiles is a real perk of this book.

As the title suggests, field linguists endeavor to figure out what people know—both as speakers of their languages and as members of their speech communities, which are often marginalized/minoritized. Linguists need a methodology to elicit that knowledge and record it in a way that correctly captures speakers’ competence. A recurring issue discussed by multiple contributors is the choice of “intermediary” or “contact” language. To what degree should the outside researcher be expected to master the language under study? Is it always preferable to have native speakers document their own language, or can outside researchers produce equally valuable descriptions and analyses? Multiple contributors address the use of questionnaires and on-site experiments as tools to diminish, and maybe even eliminate, possible corrupting effects of intermediary/contact language interference. (Unsurprisingly, Russian serves as the intermediary/contact for most fieldwork in the post-Soviet sphere.) These interlocking methodological issues are discussed at great length in the contributions by Tatiana B. Agranat, Maria N. Usacheva, Svetlana Moskvitcheva and Alain Viaut, and Marina V. Kutsaeva. I suspect that readers primarily interested in ethnographic practice will recognize many of the methodological challenges that these authors discuss, since the question of how to navigate communicative differences between different cultures is an issue that anthropologists and linguists alike must face.

Another recurring issue concerns language endangerment, now recognized as a problem on the global level. Only some of the minority languages discussed in this volume can be considered “safe” or “stable.” Olga A. Kazakevich's chapter addresses multiple Siberian languages (Selkup, Ket, Evenki) that are in precarious condition, with little potential for long-term vitality and intergenerational transmission; the same holds for Chukchi, discussed by Maria Yu. Pupynina. A depressing generalization that has emerged in the literature on endangerment is that shift away from Indigenous minority languages can occur very quickly. Some of the more stable or vital languages discussed in this book (such as the Eastern Iranian languages that are the focus of Part III) will almost assuredly grow more endangered over the coming decades.

Multiple contributors offer careful historical contextualization. While most of the authors discuss research that took place in the last two decades, others reflect on fieldwork carried out during the Soviet heyday. Joy Edelman discusses having worked on the Pamir languages between the 1950s and 1970s as a student of the Iranianist Ivan I. Zarubin; and the Russian-Vietnamese Linguistic Expedition, described by Irina V. Samarina, began in 1979. Comparing the experience of earlier generations of fieldworkers with more recent ones reveals a bittersweet irony: while the physical conditions of field research have improved—thanks to digital recording technology, faster transport, and the like—the languages under study have almost all grown more endangered. So much of the linguistic and cultural knowledge that researchers seek to record is either in danger of disappearing or is already lost.

I am glad to have had the opportunity to read Strategies for Knowledge Elicitation. Doing so has given me new insights into the methodological issues that I face as an Amazonianist and has served as an important reminder that much of what we do as field linguists transcends political boundaries (“East” versus “West”) and associated discipline-internal divisions (the American versus Russian schools).

Adam Roth Singerman

Syracuse University

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Sibirica

Interdisciplinary Journal of Siberian Studies

  • Malchukov, Andrei. 1995. Even. Munich: Lincom.

  • Novikova, K. A.. 1960. Ocherki dialektov evenskogo iazyka: Ol'skii govor. Chast’ 1. Moscow: AN SSR.

  • Pakendorf, Brigitte, and Natalia Aralova. 2020. “Even and the Northern Tungusic languages.” In The Oxford Guide to the Transeurasian Languages, ed. by Martine Robbeets and Alexander Savelyev, 288304. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Robbek, V. A. 1989. Iazyk evenov Berezovki. Leningrad: Nauka.

  • Tsintsius, V. I. 1947. Ocherki grammatiki evenskogo (lamutskogo) iazyka. Leningrad: Uchpedgiz.

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