Case studies of contact-induced change

Investigator: Hanna Fricke (PhD student)


Languages retain signals of ancient language contact in lexicon and grammatical structure. In the area where Lamaholot (Austronesian) is spoken today, no Papuan languages are spoken, but observations gleaned from the sources available on Lamaholot grammar (Nagaya 2012, Nishiyama and Kelen 2007, Keraf 1978, Arndt 1937) suggest a possible Papuan substrate in this Austronesian language (Klamer 2012; cf. Keesing 1988). This third case study of language contact investigates to what extent these observations are supported by synchronic Lamaholot data. Is Lamaholot the result of a shift? If it is, what does this suggest about the lexicon and structure of the Papuan substrate language(s) once spoken in the Lamaholot area?












The basic lexicon of Lamaholot seems dramatically different from the one reconstructed for proto-Austronesian, which begs the question of where the “new” Lamaholot words originate from. Are they internally motivated historical innovations, or do they point to one or more substrate languages from which the words were borrowed? How can we distinguish the two?


Lamaholot seems to exhibit grammatical features that mix Austronesian and Alor-Pantar (AP) typology; including an unclear/variable word order, a distinction between an alienable and inalienable noun class, variable possessor marking structures, and a grammatical focus marker (Klamer 2012). Where language contact leads to an increased linguistic complexity with additive features like these, it is often assumed that the language is likely to have been spoken in a community with high degrees of outside contacts (Trudgill 2010a: 304). The contact must have been long-term, and presumably have involved language acquisition by pre-adolescent children (‘pre-critical threshold contact situations’, Trudgill 2010a: 304, 315). Hence, one hypothesis about the history of Lamaholot is that, at a certain point in time, children speaking a Papuan language shifted to using (the ancestor of) a dominant Austronesian Lamaholot. Today’s language data can be used to investigate whether this is in fact what happened.


There is some ethnographic evidence that in the late sixteenth century, the Lamaholot population was divided into two groups: the Paji and the Demon (Hägerdal 2012). The Paji were oriented towards the sea, fishing, trade and external contact, and their legends suggest that some of them immigrated from abroad at some unspecified time. By contrast, the Demon tended towards life in the highlands and living off the earth. This dichotomy is interesting because it resembles the situation found on Pantar today, where the sea-faring, trading Austronesian Alorese, relatives of the Lamaholot, immigrated from abroad and now occupy the Pantar coast; and the Papuan populations of Pantar are traditionally seen as autochthonous highland dwellers that live off their gardens, and are not involved in sea-faring or inter-island trade (cf. Anonymous 1914). In Lamaholot, a similar cohabitation of culturally distinct Austronesian (Paji) and Papuan (Demon) groups may have involved a stage where the autochthonous Papuans shifted to speaking the Austronesian language of the immigrants. This would explain some of the Papuan traces that are visible in today’s Lamaholot.


Diagnosing pre-historical language shift using synchronic data from a single language is not uncommon in Indonesia. Adelaar (1995) reports that the Land Dayak languages (Borneo) have striking lexical and phonological similarities in common with Aslian languages, and takes this to suggest that either Land Dayak originated as the result of a language shift from Aslian to Austronesian, or, more likely, that both Land Dayak and Aslian have in common a substrate from an unknown third language.


To support a scenario that Lamaholot has a Papuan / non-Austronesian substrate, more research on the history, grammar, and lexicon of Lamaholot is needed. P4 breaks new ground by providing the first study of (Papuan) substrate influence in an Austronesian language spoken on the westernmost Austronesian-Papuan contact zone.


References Link

Project 4: Language shift: Lamaholot

© 2017 www.vici.marianklamer.org

Lamaholot (Austronesian) & Papuan

[Hypothetical] Language Status:  Unequal

Social domains:    Similar?

Influence:              Uni-directional?

Process:                 Papuan group(s) shift to Lamaholot

Time depth:           500-3000 BP?

Observed result:   Convergence of grammar & lexicon


Exploring the difference between linguistic borrowing and inheritance ...