SP05: Melanesian Languages on the Edge of Asia: Challenges for the 21st Century

SP05 front coverUniversity of Hawai‘i Press
ISBN 978-0-9856211-2-4 (2012)

Melanesian Languages on the Edge of Asia: Challenges for the 21st Century

LD&C Special Publication No. 5
Edited by Nicholas Evans & Marian Klamer

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Front matter

1. Introduction: linguistic challenges of the Papuan region
Nicholas Evans, Marian Klamer, pp. 1-12

2. The languages of Melanesia: Quantifying the level of coverage
Harald Hammarström, Sebastian Nordhoff, pp. 13-33

The present paper assesses the state of grammatical description of the languages of the Melanesian region based on database of semi-automatically annotated aggregated bibliographical references. 150 years of language description in Melanesia has produced at least some grammatical information for almost half of the languages of Melanesia, almost evenly spread among coastal/non-coastal, Austronesian/non-Austronesian and isolates/large families. Nevertheless, only 15.4% of these languages have a grammar and another 18.7% have a grammar sketch. Compared to Eurasia, Africa and the Americas, the Papua-Austronesian region is the region with the largest number of poorly documented languages and the largest proportion of poorly documented languages. We conclude with some dicussion and remarks on the documentational challenge and its future prospects.

3. Systematic typological comparison as a tool for investigating language history
Ger Reesink, Michael Dunn, pp. 34-71

Similarities between languages can be due to 1) homoplasies because of a limited design space, 2) common ancestry, and 3) contact-induced convergence. Typological or structural features cannot prove genealogy, but they can provide historical signals that are due to common ancestry or contact (or both). Following a brief summary of results obtained from the comparison of 160 structural features from 121 languages (Reesink, Singer & Dunn 2009), we discuss some issues related to the relative dependencies of such features: logical entailment, chance resemblance, typological dependency, phylogeny and contact. This discussion focusses on the clustering of languages found in a small sample of 11 Austronesian and 8 Papuan languages of eastern Indonesia, an area known for its high degree of admixture.

4. Papuan-Austronesian language contact: Alorese from an areal perspective
Marian Klamer, pp. 72-108

This paper compares the grammar and lexicon of Alorese, an Austronesian language spoken in eastern Indonesia, with its closest genealogical relative, Lamaholot, spoken on east Flores, as well as with its geographical neighbours, the Papuan languages of Pantar. It focusses on the question how Alorese came to have the grammar and lexicon it has today. It is shown that Alorese and Lamaholot share a number of syntactic features which signal Papuan influences that must have been part of Proto-Lamaholot, suggesting (prehistoric) Papuan presence in the Lamaholot homeland in east Flores/Solor/Adonara/ Lembata. The data indicate that Proto-Lamaholot had a rich morphology, which was completely shed by Alorese after it split from Lamaholot. At the same time, lexical congruence between Alorese and its current Papuan neighbours is limited, and syntactic congruence virtually absent. Combining the comparative linguistic data with what little is known about the history of the Alorese, I propose a scenario whereby Lamaholot was acquired as non-native language by spouses from different Papuan clans who were brought into the Lamaholot communities that settled on the coast of Pantar at least 600 years ago. Their morphologically simplified language was transferred to their children. The history of Alorese as reconstructed here suggests that at different time depths, different language contact situations had different outcomes: prehistoric contact between Papuan and Proto-Lamaholot in the Flores area resulted in a complexification of Proto-Lamaholot, while post-migration contact resulted in simplification. In both cases, the contact was intense, but the prehistoric contact with Papuan in the Flores area must have been long-term and involve pre-adolescents, while the post-migration contact was probably of shorter duration and involved post-adolescent learners.

5. Even more diverse than we had thought: The multiplicity of Trans-Fly languages
Nicholas Evans, pp. 109-149

Linguistically, the Trans Fly region of Southern New Guinea is one of the least known parts of New Guinea. Yet the glimpses we already have are enough to see that it is a zone with among the highest levels of linguistic diversity in New Guinea, arguably only exceeded by those found in the Sepik and the north coast. After surveying the sociocultural setting, in particular the widespread practice of direct sister-exchange which promotes egalitarian multilingualism in the region, I give an initial taste of what its languages are like. I focus on two languages which are neighbours, and whose speakers regularly intermarry, but which belong to two unrelated and typologically distinct families: Nen (Yam Family) and Idi (Pahoturi River Family). I then zoom out to look at some typological features of the whole Trans-Fly region, exemplifying with the dual number category, and close by stressing the need for documentation of the languages of this fascinating region.

6. Projecting morphology and agreement in Marori, an isolate of Southern New Guinea
Wayan Arka, pp. 150-173

This paper is the first detailed investigation on agreement in Marori (Isolate, Papuan, Merauke-Indonesia), highlighting its significance in the cross-linguistic understanding of NUM(BER) expression and in the unification-based theory of agreement. Marori shows PERS and NUM agreement with distributed exponence in DUAL. The paper proposes that DUAL is formed by two basic NUM features (SG, PL) each with its binary values and that DUAL is [-SG,-PL] (unmarked). The novel aspect of the analysis is the idea that the NUM feature is mapped onto a language-specific structured semantic space of NUM. A morpheme is analysed as carrying a feature bundle, with the semantic spaces referred to by the individual features possibly overlapping with each other. The proposed analysis can provide a natural explanation for NUMBER agreement in Marori and can be extended to account for unusual cases of NUM agreement and expression in other languages.

7. ‘Realis’ and ‘irrealis’ in Wogeo: A valid category?
Mats Exter, pp. 174-190

Finite verb forms in Wogeo, an Austronesian language of New Guinea, are obligatorily marked with a portmanteau prefix denoting person and number of the subject on the one hand, and a grammatical category that is conventionally glossed in the literature as realis–irrealis, on the other. In similar languages, the latter category is usually described as modal, with a certain range of meanings which is, in many cases, only vaguely defined. A more in-depth investigation of the verbal system of Wogeo and the functional distribution of the respective categories shows, however, that the language is quite different from a postulated prototypical realis–irrealis language. Central attributes of the supposed realis–irrealis semantics are not realized by the obligatory prefixes but by other morphosyntactic means, while the prefixes are restricted to only a small part of the assumed realis–irrealis domain.

8. From mountain talk to hidden talk: Continuity and change in Awiakay registers
Darja Hoenigman, pp. 191-218

When the Awiakay of East Sepik Province in Papua New Guinea left their village or bush camps and went to the mountains, they used a different linguistic register, ‘mountain talk’, in which several lexical items are replaced by their avoidance terms. In this way the Awiakay would prevent mountain spirits from sending sickness or dense fog in which they would get lost on their journeys. Over the last decade people’s trips to the mountain have become more frequent due to the eaglewood business. However, Christianity caused a decline in the use of ‘mountain talk’. Yet a linguistic register similar in its form and function has sprung up in a different setting: kay menda, ‘different talk’, or what people sometimes call ‘hidden talk’, is used when the Awiakay go to the town to sell eaglewood and buy goods. Like other cultural phenomena, linguistic registers are historical formations, which change in form and value over time. This paper aims to show how although in a different social setting, with an expanded repertoire and a slightly different function, kay menda is in a way a continuity of the ‘mountain talk’.

9. Cross-cultural differences in representations and routines for exact number
Michael Frank, pp. 219-238

The relationship between language and thought has been a focus of persistent interest and controversy in cognitive science. Although debates about this issue have occurred in many domains, number is an ideal case study of this relationship because the details (and even the existence) of exact numeral systems vary widely across languages and cultures. In this article I describe how cross-linguistic and cross-cultural diversity—in Amazonia, Melanesia, and around the world—gives us insight into how systems for representing exact quantities affect speakers’ numerical cognition. This body of evidence supports the perspective that numerals provide representations for storing and manipulating quantity information. In addition, the differing structure of quantity representations across cultures can lead to the invention of widely varied routines for numerical tasks like enumeration and arithmetic.

10. Keeping records of language diversity in Melanesia: The Pacific and Regional Archive for Digital Sources in Endangered Cultures (PARADISEC)
Nick Thieberger, Linda Barwick, pp. 239-253

At the turn of this century, a group of Australian linguistic and musicological researchers recognised that a number of small collections of unique and often irreplaceable field recordings mainly from the Melanesian and broader Pacific regions were not being properly housed and that there was no institution in the region with the capacity to take responsibility for them. The recordings were not held in appropriate conditions and so were deteriorating and in need of digitisation. Further, there was no catalog of their contents or their location so their existence was only known to a few people, typically colleagues of the collector. These practitioners designed the Pacific and Regional Archive for Digital Sources in Endangered Cultures (PARADISEC), a digital archive based on internationally accepted standards (Dublin Core/Open Archives Initiative metadata, International Asociation of Sound Archives audio standards and so on) and obtained funding to build an audio digitisation suite in 2003. This is a new conception of a data repository, built into workflows and research methods of particular disciplines, respecting domain-specific ethical concerns and research priorities, but recognising the need to adhere to broader international standards. This paper outlines the way in which researchers involved in documenting languages of Melanesia can use PARADISEC to make valuable recordings available both to the research community and to the source communities.