Case Marking and Grammatical Relations in Polynesian makes an outstanding contribution to both Polynesian and historical linguistics. It is at once a reference work describing Polynesian syntax, an investigation of the role of grammatical relations in syntax, and a discussion of ergativity, case marking, and other areas of syntactic diversity in Polynesian. In its treatment of the history of case marking in Polynesian, it attempts to specify what counts as evidence in syntactic reconstruction and how syntactic reanalysis progresses. It therefore represents a first step toward a general theory of syntactic change.
Chung first describes the basic syntax of the Polynesian languages, discussing Maori, Tongan, Samoan, Kapingamarangi, and Pukapukan in depth. She then presents an investigation of the grammatical relations of these languages and their relevance to syntax and shows that the syntax of all these languages—even those with ergative case marking—revolves around the familiar grammatical relations subject and direct object. Finally the book traces the historical development of the different case systems from their origins in Proto-Polynesian.