A Grammar of Mosetén

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Walter de Gruyter, 2004 - Language Arts & Disciplines - 504 pages
4 Reviews

Moset n belongs to the small, unclassified language family Mosetenan and is spoken by roughly 800 people in the foothills of the Bolivian Andes and the adjoining lowland region. This book provides a grammatical description of Moset n in the form of a descriptive reference grammar. It is based on the author's extensive fieldwork in Bolivia and is intended to be comprehensive and aimed at linguists from all backgrounds. Belonging to an unclassified language family, Moset n is of special interest to typologists, historical linguists, contact linguists and South Americanists.

The grammar is divided into a chapter on phonology (2.) and six chapters on the morphology: morphological processes (3.) the nominal system (4.), pronouns and reference (5.), adjectives and adverbs (6.), quantification (7.) and the verbal system (8.). These chapters are followed by voice (9.), negation (10.) and modality and discourse markers (11.). Finally, there are two syntactically oriented chapters on clause types (12.) and clause combinations (13.). In the appendix, three types of texts, a list of morphemes, a list of references and further bibliographical notes are added. Furthermore, there is an index.

This grammar is the first accessible and comprehensive description of a Mosetenan language.


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The grammar is over 500 pages of description and analysis of the phonology and syntax of the Covendo Mosetén dialect. The front matter includes a table of contents, acknowledgements, a list of abbreviations, three maps of the region and a list of tables. The end matter includes three texts with interlinear glosses in different genres, a quantitative analysis of word order in the texts, a list of grammatical markers with their functions, a list of references and an index. The main body is divided into 13 chapters dealing with the language background, previous work, phonology, noun phrase, verb phrase and clause combinations. Each chapter is divided into subsections with headings describing the function or occasionally the form of the element under consideration. The work employs terminology common in descriptive and typological work and the analysis is accompanied by many examples with interlinear glosses and English translations.
The use of descriptive terminology to categorise and organise the material makes the task of finding relevant information easy. However, in many cases it seems to be imposed too rigidly on the data. Morphosyntactic elements requiring detailed semantic analysis and explanation are labelled with broad descriptive terms without much qualification. For example, adjectives are labelled as such without clear justification for the existence of this lexical category. In his review, Salanova (2007) argues that adjectives are not formally distinct from other parts of speech and this category may be being falsely imposed in the data. Another review by Adelaar (2006) notes that a distinction is drawn between restrictive and non-restrictive relative clauses where the given data do not seem to support this distinction.
Other problems with the grammar relate to the presentation of information. Masculine and feminine gender, an inherent feature of all nouns, is not consistently marked in the gloss, leading to confusion when features of the gender agreement system are discussed. Grammatical morphemes are glossed using a minimal three-letter system instead of standard abbreviations, causing the reader to constantly return to the list of abbreviations in the front of the book. In the discussion of the transitive cross-reference system, tables list all possible person combinations, including partial co-reference combinations such as second person plural acting on second person singular. As Adelaar (2006) notes, these are not normally found in natural languages and the forms listed are not formally different from reflexives in any case. Again the problem here is a deductive approach which does not always accurately reflect the facts apparent in the data. Adelaar also identifies similarly contrived distinctions in the chapter on voice constructions.
Despite these problems, the grammar remains the most sophisticated and comprehensive descriptive work on a Mosetenan language, with many areas of the grammar clearly described and exemplified. In many cases, Sakel has also clarified and updated her analysis in subsequent publications.
Adelaar, Willem F. H. 2006. [Review of the book A Grammar of Mosetén by Jeanette Sakel]. Anthropological Linguistics 48 (2): 191–194.
Salanova, Andrés Pablo. 2007. [Review of the book A Grammar of Mosetén by Jeanette Sakel]. International Journal of American Linguistics 73 (3): 374–376.

User Review - Flag as inappropriate

This is a brilliant book. I found it very useful in my study of voice structures. I can't understand why anyone would give it one star. Besides, the arguments listed by the other reviewer are flawed. Dictionaries, large amounts of texts, etc are usually not included in grammar books of this type.
I would recommend this to anybody.


Morphological processes
Pronouns and reference
Adjectives and adverbs
The verbal system
Modality and discourse markers
Clause types
Clause combinations
Word order in written texts


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About the author (2004)

Jeanette Sakel is Research Associate at the Department of Linguistics, University Manchester, UK.

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