Significance of Location, Material, and Timing

The Lamaholot-Pantar-Alor (LPA) region is a unique laboratory for the present investigation. First, many different processes of contact are ongoing between Austronesian and Papuan languages (Klamer 2002, Klamer et.al. 2008, Klamer and Ewing 2010), but none of these has yet been studied in any detail. Typologically, Austronesian-Papuan Alor-Pantar (AP) contact is fascinating, as salient grammatical differences exist between the two groups. For instance, in word order (SVO [AN] vs. SOV [AP]), in agreement (subject [AN] vs. object agreement [AP]), and in TAM marking (absence [AN] vs. presence [AP] of morphological tense). This allows us to study the effect of contact on grammatical change. For instance: (How) does tense morphology of an AP language survive during contact with an AN language (P2)? (How) is subject agreement of an AN language retained when it is learned by AP speakers (P3)? Second, the island setting of the region makes it unique among linguistic contact zones studied elsewhere in the world, which all have continental settings. Contacts between speaker groups living on different islands are expected to be less frequent and less intense, and the LPA setting enables us to investigate if distances across water and across land are in fact fundamentally different factors in contact.


This is the right time for language-based research on the history of the LPA region. While archeological data and written historical records relating to the LPA region are still lacking, our linguistic knowledge is now at exactly the right level of granularity to allow language contact studies. Efforts over the last decade have resulted in lexical databases and grammars of many AP languages, and a considerable body of knowledge about the proto-AP lexicon and grammar (Holton et.al. 2012, Holton and Robinson, to appear a, Klamer and Schapper 2012). Also, a grammar of Lamaholot (Nagaya 2012) has recently become available, as well as detailed knowledge of proto-Austronesian grammar and lexicon (Blust 2009a and references; web edition of Blust’s “Comparative Austronesian Dictionary”). And crucially, it has recently become possible and affordable to do quantitative analysis of large primary datasets of the type we will undertake.  


This project is urgent. Being rapidly displaced by Indonesian, all the languages in question will soon become extinct, taking essential data for linguistic theory and socio-cultural history with them. Now is the time to explore linguistic traces of the LPA past, or they will be lost forever.


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