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  • Kiput Historical Phonology
  • Robert Blust

The languages of northern Sarawak are noteworthy for their unusual phonological histories. Even among these, Kiput is exceptional. All North Sarawak languages reflect a split of the Proto-Austronesian voiced obstruents into a series of plain voiced obstruents and a parallel series of phonemic voiced aspirates, and most of the same languages have fronted low vowels after a voiced obstruent, or have developed systems of verbal ablaut from the infixes *-um- and *-in-. On top of these widely shared innovations Kiput shows diachronic evidence for such atypical changes as intervocalic devoicing, lowering of diphthongal nuclei unless a voiced obstruent occurs earlier in the word, *f > s, and possibly postnasal devoicing, as well as synchronic evidence for the spontaneous nasalization of nonlow vowels before final p, t, k (but not glottal stop), constraints on moraic structure conditioned by syllable onset, and the alternation of b with s. Although some languages may have undergone more sound changes, or may have more radically transformed the shapes of protoforms through heavy phonological erosion, with the possible exception of the Berawan dialects of northern Sarawak the concentration of bizarre sound changes seen in Kiput probably is unrivalled among the more than 1,000 members of the Austronesian language family.

1. Background.

Kiput is a member of the Berawan-Lower Baram branch of the North Sarawak subgroup of Austronesian (AN) languages, spoken by perhaps 450 people. The entire language community reportedly resides in a single long-house known variously as Long Kiput, Long Tutoh, or Kuala Tutoh, located on the main branch of the Baram River about one kilometer from its junction with the Tutoh in Sarawak's Fourth Division. The nearest major settlements are the Kenyah longhouse of Long Ikang further up the Baram, and the more recent Iban settlement of Belahui, some distance up the Tutoh, which probably was established sometime early in the twentieth century. The closest linguistic relatives of Kiput appear to be Belait, spoken in Brunei; Narum; Dali'; and Miri, spoken in the basin of the Baram River and adjacent littoral of Sarawak; and the languages described by Ray (1913) as Lemeting and Lelak, which may now be extinct. Somewhat more distantly related are the Berawan dialects of Long Terawan (perhaps a distinct language), Long Teru, Batu Belah, and Long Jegan; more distant still are the Kelabitic languages, which apparently share a common node with Berawan- Lower Baram below the node that dominates North Sarawak as a whole.1 [End Page 384]

Like other members of the North Sarawak group, Kiput has a complex and in many ways surprising historical phonology. Some aspects of the historical phonology of Kiput have been discussed in passing elsewhere (Blust 1969, 1974a, 1997a, 2000), but no comprehensive account of the changes in this language has yet appeared in print. Moreover, although some theoretically unexpected details of Kiput historical phonology are shared with other North Sarawak languages, others are unique, and so justify treating this language as an exemplar of a group of languages that exhibit an unusually large number of bizarre sound changes.

2. A Sketch of the Synchronic Phonology.

To date very little has been published on this language. Ray (1913) contains a vocabulary of somewhat over 200 items in a phonemically inadequate transcription, and scattered data appear in various of the writer's earlier publications. Before examining the historical phonology of Kiput, it will be useful to provide an outline of the synchronic phonology of the language. A much fuller account of the phonology and morphology, together with a vocabulary of over 930 words and more than 400 sentences, is found in Blust (to appear).

Table 1 lists the consonant phonemes of Kiput. The phoneme c is a voiceless palatal affricate. The glottal stop is written as "ʔ", and ë is a typologically rare mid-central glide (Ladefoged and Maddieson 1996:322-324) that is identical to schwa except that it occurs only postvocalically as the coda of a falling diphthong.

In addition, Kiput has eight vowels, at least twelve diphthongs, and two triph-thongs. The vowels are i, I, é, u, U, o, e, and a where, following a tradition in the romanization of Malay, e represents a...


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