Malayalam. By R. E. ASHER and T. C. KUMARI. Descriptive Grammars. London: ROUTLEDGE, 1997. Pp. xxvi + 491 + two maps.
Asher's and Kumari's Malayalam is the twenty-third and latest volume in Routledge's Descriptive Grammars series, and the third Dravidian language to appear in that series. All these grammars follow a standard format, set out in Lingua, vol. 42, no. 1, permitting ready typological comparison among different languages. Inverting the order of traditional grammars, the first two chapters dedicate nearly two hundred pages each to syntax and morphology. The remaining three chapters treat phonology (pp. 405-46), ideophones and interjections (pp. 447-49) and lexicon (pp. 451-65). Before addressing some specific issues, reading and re-reading Malayalam has led me to believe that it should serve, for many years to come, as the standard reference grammar of the language.
Malayalam's agglutinating morphology gives rise to relatively complex words. The section on compound morphology (pp. 396-99) would therefore benefit by the introduction of morpheme boundaries so that the uninitiated reader might more easily segment large words such as aatumaatukal 'sheep and cattle' into their component parts, i.e., aatu 'sheep', maatu 'cow' and the plural marker -kal. The glosses are not always sufficient to guide the reader in this task: the compound noun teeyiloccei, which Asher and Kumari render on p. 395 as 'tea plant', really consists of three members: tee 'tea', ila 'leaf' and (c)ceti 'bush'.
Section 22.214.171.124 presents an example of a noun that is supposed to derive from an adverb, viz., enkilu-kal-ute 'ifs' (as in "no 'ifs', 'ands' or 'buts'"). Formally, this comes not from an adverb, but directly from a verb: in this delocutive phrase, the conditional verb form enkilu 'if (one) says' is declined as a genitive (-ute) plural (-kal) noun, On p. 439, the authors say that, in certain compounds, the final nasal of a preceding word takes on the place of articulation of the initial stop of the following word through regressive assimilation, when progressive assimilation is really meant. A citation to Huang 1994 appears, on p. 5, but is not included in the bibliography.
Asher wrote the companion Tamil volume in this series, and he takes...