Multilingualism and contact-induced linguistic change in southern Sumatra

Prof. Bradley McDonnell

Linguists have long sought to understand the connections between Philippine-type languages with a multiple undergoer voices, case marking, and second position clitics, and the languages of western Indonesia with a reduced voice system, no case marking, and applicative suffixes. However, recent proposals have shown that the languages of western Indonesia are typologically diverse and these changes are likely attributed to parallel independent developments and language contact. To begin to understand these developments, I contrast the role of language contact in the modern grammars of two under-described non-Malayic languages of southern Sumatra: Rejang [glottocode: reja1240] and Nasal [glottocode: nasa1239]. Rejang has maintained a voice system that is very different from the Malayic languages surrounding it, while Nasal in many respects shows all of the same features as the Malayic varieties with which it is in contact. The explanation for these differences involves several factors chief among them is the different degrees of bilingualism in each community.

In this presentation, I show that while both languages have been in extensive contact with Malay, the apparent restructuring of their voice systems is very different. I point out the importance of investigating particular language ecologies in order to understand the role of language contact in the development of western Indonesian languages. With a focus on recent collaborative efforts to document the speech practices of the Nasal speech community, I also highlight several implications for the documentation and description of languages spoken in multilingual communities.