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Language Variation in South Asia.

The publications of William Bright, until his retirement Professor of Linguistics and Anthropology at U.C.L.A., from 1966 to 1987 editor of Language, and in recent years editor-in-chief of the Oxford International Encyclopedia of Linguistics, have spanned numerous subject matters, academic disciplines, geographic areas, and language families. His writings have dealt with such far-ranging topics as Dravidian grammar and historical phonology, Indian epigraphy and paleography, sociolinguistic and ethnographic theory, and Amerindian linguistics, folklore, and ethnography. To a considerable extent, the range of fields in which Bright has published has reflected the influence of two of Bright's teachers at Berkeley, Murray B. Emeneau and Mary R. Haas. The inspiration of these teachers has been evident in Bright's career-long insistence upon viewing linguistic structures, whether Dravidian, Indo-Aryan, or Amerindian, in broad social and historical contexts. In addition, Bright has insisted upon the necessity for describing languages in ways that profile patterns of internal variation (whether geographically or socially conditioned) and properties that have resulted from linguistic convergence.

The range of Bright's interests with regard to South Asian languages is well illustrated in the book at hand. It consists of reprinted versions of eleven papers first published between 1960 and 1988: "Linguistic change in some Indian caste dialects" (1960); "Sociolinguistic variation and language change" (with A. K. Ramanujan, 1964); "Dravidian metaphony" (1966); "Language, social stratification, and cognitive orientation" (1966); "Complex verb forms in colloquial Tamil" (with J. Lindenfeld, 1968); "Phonological rules in literary and colloquial Kannada (1970); "Hindi numerals" (1972); "The Dravidian enunciative vowel" (1975); "How not to decipher the Indus Valley inscriptions" (1981); "Archaeology, linguistics, and ancient Dravidian" (1986); and "Written and spoken languages in South Asia" (1988). The book begins with a preface, largely autobiographical in nature, in which Bright describes his debt to Emeneau and Haas, enumerates the major strands of his linguistic work, and cites the names of several additional scholars (Charles Ferguson, John Gumperz, and William Labov) whose work has influenced the development of his own research. The book concludes with a cumulative bibliography and index.

In reading over these papers one is struck by several qualities of Bright's writing. One of these is the meticulousness of Bright's descriptive studies of Dravidian linguistic systems. This is particularly evident in the studies of Tamil complex verb forms, Dravidian enunciative vowels, and Dravidian metaphony. Each of Bright's essays on these topics is carefully reasoned and shows a mastery of linguistic detail. In addition, the latter two papers exhibit an appreciation not only of traditional methodology of comparative grammar, but of the ways in which comparative research can accommodate the results of attempts, particularly by Emeneau ("India as a Linguistic Area," Language 32:3-16) to establish the existence of a South Asian Sprachbund. A further characteristic of Bright's linguistic studies is their awareness of the extent to which linguistic systems embody internal variation and their demonstration of the specific ways in which such variation is conditioned in the South Asian context. Bright's writings discuss the ways in which factors such as caste, literacy and literary traditions, diglossia, and social stratification interact with one another in establishing specifically South Asian patterns of linguistic variation.

In conclusion, this book serves a desirable function in gathering together those of Bright's papers that detail his thinking on the role of variation within the South Asian linguistic landscape. As such it can be read in conjunction with the earlier 1976 collection of Bright's papers Variation and Change in Language (Stanford: Stanford University Press). The work will be of particular interest to Dravidianists, as well as to students of other South Asian language families whose research has an areal dimension or incorporates facets of socially conditioned variation.
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Author:Shapiro, Michael C.
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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