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  • From ancient Cham to modern dialects: Two thousand years of language contact and change
  • Robert Blust
Graham Thurgood . 1999. From ancient Cham to modern dialects: Two thousand years of language contact and change. Oceanic Linguistics Special Publication No. 28. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press. xvii + 407 pp. $48.00, paper. ISBN 0-8248-2131-9.

As early as 192 A.D., Chinese dynastic records refer to "Lin-yi," a powerful Indianized state that flourished in coastal mainland southeast Asia south of the Vietnamese in the Red River delta and north of Funan in the Mekong delta. In this groundbreaking work, Thurgood (T) documents the remarkable linguistic history of Lin-yi, better known to Western historians as Champa.

A bird's-eye view of major events in the linguistic history of Champa can be summarized roughly as follows: (1) Somewhat over 2,000 years ago, an Austronesian-speaking population that was not yet completely differentiated from those speaking Malayic languages of western Indonesia arrived on the coast of Vietnam. (2) As a result of contact with Indian merchants and cultural emissaries, this population became organized into a Hindu-Buddhist kingdom by the late second century A.D. (3) In the mid-fourth century, a stone inscription was composed at Trakiêu, partly in Cham and partly in Sanskrit—the earliest historical document for any Austronesian language. (4) Over the centuries, the Vietnamese, pressured by Chinese expansion from the north, came into increasing conflict with the Chams. (5) In 982 A.D., the Vietnamese overran the northern Cham capital at Indrapura. Some refugees from this disaster fled northward to Hainan Island. Others fled southward along the Malay peninsula and ultimately found refuge on the northern [End Page 435] tip of the island of Sumatra. (6) In 1471 A.D., the southern Cham capital of Vijaya fell to the Vietnamese, and Champa was effectively dismembered and lost to history, its linguistic legacy preserved in the dozen or so minority languages of Vietnam and Cambodia that make up the modern Chamic group. At a still undetermined time, probably between the fall of the northern and southern capitals, Islam was introduced and the Hindu-Buddhist foundations of early Champa were fundamentally transformed.

In an important sense, these events can be seen as constituting an "external history" of Champa. What is missing in this chronicle of major contacts and conflicts with outside groups is an account of the historically silent, day-by-day process of language contact and areal adaptation by which a fairly typical language of western Indonesia gave rise to a number of descendants that show a striking typological similarity to their Austroasiatic neighbors. So pervasive was the process of areal adaptation in the Chamic languages that Schmidt (1906) misclassified them as "Austroasiatic mixed languages," Sebeok (1942) simply called them Austroasiatic, and a mere 41 years ago Pittman (1959) had to argue at some length for what would now be considered the self-evident Austronesian (Malayo-Polynesian) affiliation of Jarai. With painstaking detail, T fills in important aspects of the "missing history" of the Chamic-speaking peoples, a revealing record of migration, contact, transformation, flight, and fragmentation. The result is an object-lesson in the ways that historical linguistics can sometimes serve not only the interests of prehistorians, but those of historians as well.

Although some of T's ideas were adumbrated by other scholars, several of his proposals reflect original discoveries of fundamental importance. Among the more important contributions of this book are: (1) a convincing demonstration of the linguistic position of Acehnese, (2) an account of the evolution of register in Western Cham, (3) an account of the evolution of an incipient tone system in Eastern, or Phan Rang Cham, (4) an account of the evolution of restructured register in Haroi, (5) an account of the evolution of a fully developed tonal system in Tsat of Hainan Island, (6) a demonstration that Tsat subgroups with Northern Roglai within the Chamic group, and (7) an extensive evaluation of the Proto-Chamic lexicon.

It has been known at least since Niemann (1891) that Acehnese of northern Sumatra shares intriguing similarities with the Chamic languages. The usual interpretation of these similarities has...