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Lecture | LUCL Colloquium - Spring 2017

What can synchronic data tell us about the past?: Contact-induced change in Eastern Indonesia

Friday 21 April 2017
Cleveringaplaats 1
2311 BD Leiden


In areas without written historical records, where archaeological and ethnographic data are absent or sparse, language forms the backbone of our understanding of socio-cultural history. In our VICI project we investigate one such region in eastern Indonesia (see Figure 1). It focusses on the question ‘What can synchronic language data tell us about the past of their speakers?’ In answering this question we combine research methods from contact linguistics, historical linguistics, and language typology. In this talk we first present the overall aims of the project, and then zoom in on two case studies where Austronesian languages (blue in Fig. 1) have changed structure due to contact with Papuan languages (red in Fig. 1).

Figure 1. Languages under investigation in their geographical and genealogical context.

The first case study is on structural simplification in Alorese. Simplification (e.g. loss of morphological categories) is commonly associated with speech communities that are characterized by high amounts of adult language contact, where second-language (L2) speakers form the larger segment of the population (Kusters 2003, Trudgill 2011). There is diachronic and synchronic anthropological evidence (Wellfelt, 2016; Moro, fieldwork notes) showing that Alorese has been, and still is, spoken in such a type of community; and therefore, simplification is expected to occur. We illustrate two simplification processes that have reached completion (Klamer, 2012), and one simplification process that is still ‘on-going’ (Moro, field data). The ‘on-going’ simplification can be observed in inaccurate suppliance of subject agreement among L2 learners of Alorese, and allow us to make predictions about the future of Alorese.

The second case study is on negation in varieties of Lamaholot. We argue that in this group, clause-final negators emerged due to contact to Papuan languages, a scenario that has been suggested for several other Austronesian languages in Eastern Indonesia (Reesink 2002:246). In our region, we observe a development through different stages, from ‘pre-predicate negation’ only (typically Austronesian), via ‘embracing double negation’, to ‘clause-final negation’ only (typically Papuan). A development like this --  from simple negation to double negation and back -- is known as the Jespersen Cycle (Jespersen 1917). We argue that in our area of investigation, the Jespersen Cycle was triggered by contact.



Jespersen, Otto. 1917. Negation in English and other languages. København: København.

Reesink, Ger. 2002. Clause-final negation: structure and interpretation. Functions of Language 9(2). 239–268. Klamer, M. (2012). Papuan-Austronesian language contact: Alorese from an areal perspective. In N. Evans & M. Klamer (eds.), Melanesian languages on the Edge of Asia: Challenges for the 21th Century, Honolulu, Hawai’i: University of Hawai’i Press, 72-108.

Kusters, W. (2003). Linguistic complexity. Doctoral Dissertation, Utrecht: LOT.

Trudgill, P. 2011. Sociolinguistic typology : social determinants of linguistic complexity. Oxford: OUP.

Wellfelt, E. (2016). Historyscapes in Alor. Approaching indigenous histories in eastern Indonesia. Doctoral dissertation, Linnaeus University.

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