The Hausa Language: An Encyclopedic Reference Grammar. (Reviews of Books)

By Kaye, Alan S. | The Journal of the American Oriental Society, January-March 2002 | Go to article overview

The Hausa Language: An Encyclopedic Reference Grammar. (Reviews of Books)


Kaye, Alan S., The Journal of the American Oriental Society


The Hausa Language: An Encyclopedic Reference Grammar. By PAUL NEWMAN. Yale Language Series. New Haven: YALE UNIVERSITY PRESS. 2000. Pp. xl + 760.

Afroasiatic languages number well into the hundreds, but reference grammars about them are few. This is all the more evident for the Chadic branch of Afroasiatic with approximately 150 languages, most of which remain "grammarless." Although many grammatical treatises of Hausa--Chadic's best-known member with about 35 million speakers, mostly in Nigeria and Niger (see the extensive listing in the bibliography, pp. 741-53)--have been published, going back to the nineteenth century, this is only its second modern reference grammar (the first has been utilized by Newman [p. 3]: H. Ekkehard Wolff, Referenzgrammatik des Hausa [Monster: LIT, 1993]). Indubitably, Hausa linguistics has come a long way from the days of its "father," James Frederick Schon (1803-1889) (p. 2).

The volume undergoing review is extensive--740 large pages in a small yet readable font--probably the reason, along with the very detailed table of contents (pp. vii-xxxii), for the author's decision to entitle it "encyclopedic." Impeccably organized and with a good index (pp. 755-60), this tome sets a high standard of excellence for other linguists to emulate. Its focus is Standard Hausa; however, the author happily includes many dialectal notes.

In reading this grammar, I was struck with parallels to the situation of Amharic, the national language of Ethiopia. Even though the Semitic subbranch of Afroasiatic is more fortunate than Chadic in that it has many meticulous grammars (e.g., William Wright, A Grammar of tile Arabic Language [Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1859-1862], or Hans Bauer and Pontus Leander, Historische Grammatik der hebraischen Sprache des Alten Testamentes [Halle: Max Niemeyer, 1922]), most of them are dated and less comprehensive vis-a-vis the inner workings of the language than the present book. It was not until 1995, in fact, that the Semitic field could welcome Wolf Leslau's 1,044-page Reference Grammar of Amharic (Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz), which, like Newman's grammar, is much more detailed than any treatise published before it. It is only coincidental that Amharic, like Hausa, happens to be an African Afroasiatic language receiving exhaustive treatment by the leading specialist on the language and its family. Newman tells us in his preface (p. xxxv) that he was in the first Peace Corps group in Nigeria in 1961 (which sparked his subsequent Ph.D. interests at UCLA), and, by chance, Leslau directed the language training program at UCLA for the Peace Corps volunteers assigned to Ethiopia.

Let us now direct our attention to the organization of this grammar. The topics are alphabetically arranged into eighty self-contained chapters covering everything grammatically relevant and also, I believe, typologically interesting about the language. One finds a chapter devoted to such straightforward topics as modal particles (pp. 326-34), mutuality or reciprocity (pp. 335-37), proper names (including hypocoristics and titles [pp. 338-56]), negation (pp. 357-65), and numerals and other quantifiers (pp. 379-91). There are also chapters devoted to such language-specific subjects as ideophones (pp. 242-59), the linker or possessive 'of' (pp. 300-312), and pluractional verbs, formerly called intensive. A big plus for the volume is its user-friendliness to linguists trained in any linguistic methodology or theory.

Remarks on some specific chapters follow (Hausa forms are cited here without diacritics, for simplicity). Chapter seven, "Agent, Location, and Instrument (ma-Forms)" (pp. 51-60) presents the evidence corroborating an idea of Joseph H. Greenberg's that the m-prefix is a striking Afroasiatic retention (p. 51). In discussing gender restrictions with some forms, I agree with Newman when he affirms that [ma. …

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