Reviews

The “Parlons. . . [Let’s Speak. . .]” series of L’Harmattan, directed by Michel Malherbe, provides French-speaking readers with general introductions to a wide range of languages spoken nowadays throughout the world, from Burushaski to Luxemburgish.  As far as Central Eurasia is concerned, uneven issues have seen the light in 2001-02 on Uzbek, Karakalpak (by S. Donyiorova) and Turkmen (by the late lamented Ph.-Sch. Blacher) languages.  The present Kyrgyz volume can be seen as one of the greatest successes of the whole series—by its very size, by the amount of language material proposed to the reader, by the acuteness of the author’s linguistic and other analyses, and by the extent of the book’s philosophical purpose.  The bulk of the work (pp. 45-215) is devoted to a depiction of modern Kyrgyz language, enriched by a double “thesaurus” of Kyrgyz-French and French-Kyrgyz vocabulary (481-612).  Great attention has been given here to local, regional, and register differences, the author taking a large advantage from his unique experience of Kyrgyz as it was and is spoken in varied regions of former Soviet Central Asia (notably in northern and southern Kyrgyzstan), in the Afghan Pamir (Wakhan), and in émigré communities of Eastern Turkey.  Besides, the whole volume has been written in a very vivid way, in an intentionally subjective mood with lots of interjections to the reader, with whom the author shares his exceptional familiarity with the Kyrgyz world.  Such a standpoint helps him to explain to a general audience many innovative ideas that he has been upholding for longer time in more confidential scientific publications—e.g. on relation between oral and written culture, or on the role of modern scholars and publishers and of their incentive on the quantitative expansion of Kyrgyz epics.  Deeply informed by an overall anti-modernist stance, the chapters and paragraphs about present-day Kyrgyz society and culture stress the legacy of a remote, trans-historical past, not dwelling too much on the impact on more than a century of Russian colonisation and Soviet domination—if only for lamenting them.  Oral tradition and creation (Fr. “orature”) are studied through a multiplicity of genres, depicted typologically, with notably a pioneering identification, analysis and translation of “tongue twisters” (Fr. “virelangues”) that the author has been collecting for long, and to which he has recently devoted a remarkable work (Sarah-Rose la rosophile / Gulsevar Gulsara: virelangues d’Ouzbékistan, Paris: IFEAC – L’Asiathèque, 2005: see review in infra 583).  A specific register of oral creation, askiia (“witticism”), of a great significance from the viewpoint of sociability, has been let aside:  The author had already illustrated it in a previous publication with comparative material of, notably, Kyrgyz, Kazak, Uzbek and Uighur backgrounds (cf. his Aux origines du monde: contes et légendes de Centre-Asie, Paris: Flies France, 2000).  A very short (453-76) chapter on literature quickly passes over late nineteenth – early twentieth century innovations; it skims through the transformations of the early Soviet period, and deals at length with the works of Chingiz Aitmatov—thus confirming, volens nolens, existing derogatory stereotypes on the lack of a literary alternative to the author of Jamila in present-day Kyrgyzstan.  In all, the reader is offered, through this exceptionally attractive book that is much more than a language method, an excellent introduction at once to Kyrgyz language and culture, to significant issues of linguistics and anthropology, and to the very ethics of research in human sciences.

Stéphane A. Dudoignon, National Centre for Scientific Research, Paris
CER: I-6.3.B-572