Indonesia is home to over 700 languages, many of which are endangered because they are being abandoned by speakers in favor of the majority language, Malay Indonesian. However, languages don’t always disappear immediately or even at all; sometimes, they continue to be spoken alongside the majority language yet undergo a substantial amount of restructuring. This is one of the ways in which languages change.
This dissertation documents the social and linguistic changes that have grappled the Abui speech community of Alor island, Indonesia. These changes are an outcome of a century of efforts by Dutch colonial administrators, missionaries, school teachers, and later Indonesian authorities to bring Protestantism, schooling, and other social provisions to the community. As a result, Abui speakers have switched to Malay Indonesian. They raise their children in this language, but children are expected to become fluent in Abui as adults to communicate with other adults. In order to study what impact this has had on the Abui language, the language behavior of various age-groups, all representative of a key life-stage, such as adolescence, was compared. The result is that some of the richness of Abui grammar (morphosyntax and semantics) is being simplified by younger speakers and the language is becoming more limited in its domains of use.
Studying bilingualism and language change and change in indigenous communities, with their own unique social settings, allows linguists to deepen their understanding of how languages evolve, as well as how certain features are processed in the brain, rather than limiting these observations to urban and westernized societies. Finally, this study also provides valuable tools and insights for Abui speakers to understand the impact of these social changes on their language and trigger revitalization efforts.
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