Preface [chapter]

2022 A Grammar of Yélî Dnye  
Rossel Island has a certain fame despite its small size, small population and remote location. First, in anthropology it is well known as the home of an indigenous money system of unrivalled complexity. Malinowksi had hoped to work there, but the First World War put him under closer observation on the Trobriands. How different the history of anthropology might have been had he been placed amongst the Rossels, puritans, economists and philosophers of the Louisiades, instead of among the
more » ... rted, competitive, hierarchical Trobrianders. His linguistic gifts would certainly have put the language on the map. Instead, a remarkable ethnographer, later to be a professor of economics, Wallace E. Armstrong worked there in 1921, and published an ethnography which is quite extraordinary given the three odd months of fieldwork on which it was based. This highlighted the highly-developed indigenous shell-money system -since then a Danish anthropologist John Liep ( 2009 ) has corrected the record with a full-length monograph of his own. Neither of these anthropologists broke the language code. For the island has a second claim to fame: the Rossel language Yélî Dnye is renowned throughout Milne Bay Province as bizarre and unlearnable, so that it already attracted curious glances from a number of early New Guinea pioneers in linguistics like the Reverend Baldwin, although they left nothing but notes (see e.g. Capell n.d.; see also Capell 1969). The difficulties in reaching Rossel, 250 reef-strewn nautical miles off the mainland, have kept generations of the curious from its shores. This is not the first grammar of Yélî Dnye -that honour belongs to Jim Henderson's (1995) Phonology and Grammar of Yele, Papua New Guinea, a work of a hundred pages packed with information.1 It is based on thirty years of experience that Jim and Anne Henderson have had translating the Bible into Yélî Dnye and promoting literacy in the language. It has proved a solid foundation on which to build, and I have been able to take over lock, stock and barrel the two most essential parts of that analysis -the phoneme inventory (with minor modifications) and the analysis of the verb complex. These are the two most complex parts of the language, and without that work, this one would not have been possible on any 1 The first published work on Yélî Dnye is MacGregor (1890), followed by the anonymous report in the Annual Report on British New Guinea, 1893-4, pp. 116-12. Ray (1895) provides some comparative vocabularies, with further notes by Armstrong in Annual Report, Papua, 1921-22, and in Ray (1938). Besides the works by the Hendersons and the present author (see references), the only other known material of value is a typescript by A. Capell, with notes by the Rev. B. Baldwin, in the SIL archives in Ukurumpa.
doi:10.1515/9783110733853-202 fatcat:t32lknormvfd7gh2wdpombclym