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Georgij A. Klimov, Einführung in die kaukasische Sprachwissenschaft, übersetzt und bearbeitet von Jost Gippert, Helmut Buske Verlag, 1994, 405 S.

This review appeared in Sprachtypologie und Universalienforschung (STUF) 49 (1996) 2, pp. 205-06.
It is no easy prospect to review the translation of a book. The reviewer is tempted to say “good translation” and be done with it... but Einführung in die kaukasische Sprachwissenschaft, Jost Gippert’s translation of Klimov (1986), is a translation worthy of a bit more mention.

As I am not an expert in Caucasian linguistics, I found Klimov’s book to be a fascinating and enlightening introduction. The bottom line is that it’s a brilliant book and a superb translation. It’s not for the layman with no knowledge of linguistics, but for those who can read this type of work it is a real pleasure.

Readers of Sprachtypologie und Universalienforschung (STUF) are no doubt familiar with many of the more exotic features of Caucasian linguistics: complex consonants and consonant clusters, and the infamous ergative case. Three chapters paint a clear picture of the three major linguistic groups, West Caucasian, Kartvelian, and East Caucasian. Researchers will find in Klimov’s work a treasury of detail in his comparative studies, and chapter 6 “Typologische Beziehungen zwischen den kaukasischen Sprachen” will doubtless be of great interest. Its flanking chapters on genetic relationships and regional borrowing and other influences are comprehensive as well.

The translation is extraordinarily helpful; Gippert has carefully retained Klimov’s terminoogy such as “agentive” and “factitive” where the terms “transitive” and “intransitive” are more commonly met with in literature treating “ergative languages”. In this way Gippert links for the reader the two sets of terms so that he or she will be familiar with literature of either tradition. What could be a better introduction to Caucasian linguistics for the person interested in embarking upon further study?

Perhaps the most important aspect of the translation is that Gippert has augmented Klimov’s text with morphological analyses of Klimov’s examples, enabling the non-specialist to glimpse in finer detail the workings of these complex and fascinating languages. It is difficult to give an example of these, but to illustrate I will take just three sentences from page 228:

Deutlich zu erkennen ist der synthetische Charakter der Wortformen, v. a. verbaler Formen, auch in den Kartvelsprachen. Obwohl man hier nicht von Polysynthetizität sprechen kann, gibt es doch genügend Beispiele für Wortformen mit einer sehr komplexen morphologischen Struktur. So können in präfixaler Position gleichzeitig bis zu vier grammatische Morpheme auftreten (vgl. laz. ko-mo-m-i-q̇on-i-t ‘bringt [2. Ps. Pl. Impv. = 3DAor. (-i-t) zur Wz. -q̇on- ‘tragen, bringen’ mit Präverb ko-] ihn [ø] her [Präv. mo-] zu mir [Objektspräfix 1. Ps. Sg. (-m-) + Vokal der objektiven Version (-i-)]’, ko-dolo-v-o-bġ-i-t ‘wir [-v- -t] schütteten [1. Ps. Pl. Aor. (-i-t) zur Wz. -bġ- ‘schütten’ mit Präv. ko- und Vokal der neutralen Version (-o-)] es [ø] hinunter [Präv. -dolo]’), in suffixaler Position bis zu drei (vgl. georg. აკეთებდეს a-ḳet-eb-d-e-s ‘damit er [-s] es tue [3. Ps. Sg. Konj. [-d-e-] zum Präsensstamm (-eb-) der Wz. -ḳet- ‘machen’ mit Vokal der neutralen Version (a-)]’). Dabei läßt sich an den schriftlichen Denkmälern erkennen, daß der Grad der Synthetizität im altgeorgischen Wort noch höher war als im heutigen Georgischen.
The typesetting is a real tour de force for Gippert and for Buske Verlag. Proper extended Cyrillic, Georgian, Armenian, and Arabic fonts grace the pages with full transliterations complete with diacritics. As a typographer I can complain only that the ʒ (as in the name Gamqreliʒe) is rather clumsily designed, which is a bit distracting. The mark of glottalization is a bit too c-like for my tastes but perhaps Caucasianists are used to it. But the typesetting is beautiful in any case.

Appendix 2 is a 38-page bibliography, augmented by Gippert to include recent publications. Appendix 4 gives the Latin, Cyrillic, Georgian, and Armenian transliteration tables of the Annual of Ibero-Caucasian Linguistics. This is very welcome. In my copy the tables, which are obviously reduced for publication, leave some fo the characters run a little bit thin; if the point size of the characters were increased slightly this might not happen so easily. Appendix 5 gives a useful and interesting set of tables of genetic relationships, supplemented with three impressive maps of the Caucasus region with langauges and dialects located in great detail.

There isn’t much more I can say. This is a great work, and its appearance in German is a great thing. Buy it, order it for your libraries, tell your friends about it. Certainly Buske Verlag should be encouraged to continue publishing works of this calibre.


Klimov, Georgij A. 1994. Einführung in die kaukasische Sprachwissenschaft. Aus dem russischen übersetzt und bearbeitet von Jost Gippert. Hamburg: Helmut Buske Verlag. ISBN 3-87548-060-0
Климов, Георгий А. 1986. Введение в кавказское языкознание. Москва: Наука.
 
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