- Paperback: 223 pages
- Publisher: Cambridge University Press; Paper edition edition (May 31, 1983)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0521296692
- ISBN-13: 978-0521296694
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.5 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 2 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,322,542 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Mesoamerican Indian Languages Paper edition Edition
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At least a hundred indigenous Indian languages are known to have been spoken in Mesoamerica, but it is only in the past fifty years that many of them have been adequately described. Professor Suárez draws together this considerable mass of scholarship in a general survey that will provide an invaluable source of reference.
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Having already read Marianne Mithun's book The Languages of Native North America, of this same Cambridge series, I was very disappointed at how very far The Meso-American Indian Languages fell short of the standards that she had set.
Among the problems I found with this book:
1. There were no seperate sections to introduce individual language families.
2. few maps and charts: I wanted to know specifically which communities each language or dialect was spoken in, and precisely where each of these could be found, but the few maps showed so little detail that only general areas could be discerned.
3. Where sample sentences were given to illustrate grammatical points, it was often difficult to know which language the sample was from without looking far above in the preceding text. Where examples from various languages are used in a given section, each sample sentence should be labelled as to contributing language.
4. For most language families, little or no effort was made (a) to enumerate and identify individual speech communities within low-level groupings, or (b) to differentiate independant languages from mutually intelligible dailects.
5. For information on status, population and literacy rates for each language, the reader would be better off looking to SIL's Ethnologue website.
6. After reading this book, I still know practically nothing about research done on each language or the researchers involved. There are extensive bibliographies, however, so that the determined student can find much of this information with effort. Nor was there much information about literature in these languages, such as newspapers or religious literature.
7. Every native English speaker knows intuitively that the sentence "It is me who is well" is grammatically correct (where "me" is in oblique form because it is the object of the verb "is", and "is" in the second phrase is properly 3rd person singular because its subject is "who"), but we are brainwashed through formal education to accept such unthinking silliness as "It is I who is well. Mr. Suarez takes this regrammaticalization to its absurd extreme with "It is I who am well." Most contemplative speakers of English (which excludes most high school English teachers and several influential grammarians) would immediately recognize the idiocy of this kind of syntactic contortionism, but Mr. Suarez employs it throughout this volume.
The good things that I can say about this book are:
1. One gains an understanding of Meso-America as a linguistic area through the phonological and syntactic comparisons the author makes.
2. Chapter 9 gives a good overview of "Preconquest Literary Traditions", the literature of Classical Nauatl and Mayan before and shortly after the conquest.
3. Chapter 10 covers "The prehistory of Mesoamerican Indian languages", correlating archeological and linguistic data, and discussing direction of loanwords as indicative of cultural influence.
4. Chapter 11 "Indian languages after the conquest": language policies and current status of the languages
Basically, chapters 3 through 8 should be completely rewritten by Marianne Mithun.
However, as Scott Kegley points out, "The Mesoamerican Indian Languages" is rather disappointing for its lack of depth. There is little coverage of what makes these languages interesting. As an example, the ergativity of the Mayan and Huave languages is only mentioned once with no examples, yet it is a critical aspect of their structure - so critically so that in some Huave languages which appear to have the same word order as English in transitive clauses actually have the verb before the subject in intransitive ones (word order of ergative-verb-absolutive). Although there is a reasonable description of how the word is structured in such languages as Tarascan, it is far from so totally comprehensive as one would wish. Still, one does get a very good feel for how these languages compare in their morphological structures with each other.
Too much of the focus of "The Mesoamerican Indian Languages" is on subjects that should have been peripheral such as phonology, the status of these languages today, and the influence of Spanish on the vocabulary and even grammar. On the other hand, I can feel very satisfied with the descriptions of these questions - most especially the phonology, which is done in a manner one would wish for with the rest of "The Mesoamerican Indian Languages". This is true of both the actual phonological systems and the quite complex tone systems which are a feature of the largest language family indigenous to the area - the Oto-Manguean languages.
All in all, this is a rather disappointing book that could have used far more examples in grammar and less focus on peripheral points. In the absence of any other book covering this rich and unusual linguistic area in detail, "The Mesoamerican Indian Languages" has to serve as a reference guide for a beginner in Mesoamerican linguistics, but it could be much better: one can for instance get as much information on certain topics from Johanna Nichols' superb Linguistic Diversity in Space and Time.