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  • Typical Features of Austronesian Languages in Central/Eastern Indonesia1
  • Marian Klamer

This paper presents a list of typical properties of the languages of Central/Eastern (C/E) Indonesia, covering roughly the geographical area between Lombok and Papua. It focuses on those characteristics that set apart the C/E Indonesian languages from the Austronesian languages toward the west. A synthesis of recently published data on C/E Indonesian languages, the present paper provides an updated typological window on an area that is relatively under-represented in Austronesian research. It is argued that a typological characterization of a linguistic area like this can be used as a heuristic tool in comparative research. Because the area under consideration is geographically defined, the data do not have any direct bearing on issues of genetic subgrouping. Nevertheless, because all but one of the features listed here are those of Austronesian languages, they may be used to formulate hypotheses about the higher-order genetic affiliation of a language whose affiliation to a particular family (e.g., whether Austronesian or not) is yet uncertain. This is especially relevant for C/E Indonesia as a contact zone of languages with different (or unknown) genetic affiliations. How the list of typological features may be used to formulate specific hypotheses about contact-induced linguistic change is illustrated.

1. Introduction.

This paper presents an initial typological characterization of the languages of the Central/Eastern (C/E) Indonesian region, roughly covering the geographical area east of Lombok and west of Papua.

The core sample of languages referred to in this paper are the Austronesian languages Muna (Sulawesi, Van den Berg 1989), Tukang Besi (Sulawesi, Donohue 1999), Bima (Owens 2000), Kéo (Flores, Baird 2002), Kambera (Sumba, Klamer [End Page 363] 1998a), Buru (Moluccas, Grimes 1991), Alune (Moluccas, Florey 2001), Leti (Moluccas, east of Timor, Van Engelenhoven 1995), Teun, Nila, and Serua (Moluccas, NE of Timor, Van Engelenhoven, to appear), Fehan Tetun (Timor, Van Klinken 1999), Taba (Halmahera, Bowden 2001), and Biak (N of the Bird's Head, Steinhauer, to appear). The locations where these languages are spoken are indicated on the map in figure 1.

There are several ways in which an overview such as this may be useful for Austronesian linguistic research. First, because it is a synthesis of data on C/E Indonesian languages that have become available in the past decade, it presents an updated typological window on C/E Indonesian languages.

Second, existing typological characterizations of Austronesian incorporate either the characteristics of Western Austronesian and Oceanic languages (e.g., Clark 1990, Tryon 1995), or of the Austronesian languages in Papua and Papua New Guinea (e.g., Voorhoeve 1994, Ross 1996, Foley 1998). The typical characteristics of C/E Indonesian languages do not feature in these overviews. The list of features presented here may be used to fill this gap in our typological picture of Austronesian languages.

Third, a typological overview of a linguistic area can be used as a heuristic tool in comparative research. Traditionally, most of the comparative research in Austronesian linguistics has a diachronic orientation: it aims at the establishment of genetic

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Figure 1.

Location of Core Sample of Languages Discussed in this Paper

[End Page 364]

relations between languages, and the reconstruction of protoforms. This paper, however, takes a synchronic approach to comparative research by making typological and areal comparisons. In this context, it is important to point out that synchronic and diachronic comparison are mutually dependent rather than competitive approaches. For example, although genetic relationships are established by the classical comparative method, it is also well known that "the comparative method is not a heuristic: ... when applied to vocabulary, it does not demonstrate relatedness, but simply assumes relatedness and proceeds to describe the relationships between the daughter languages" (Nichols 1996:40, emphasis mine). The classical comparative method, then, is a means to demonstrate an already existing hypothesis of genetic relationship through cognate paradigms of grammatical morphemes and sets of cognate lexical items (cf. Thomason and Kaufman 1988:201-202, Ross 1996). In other words, before the comparative method can be applied to unknown or unclassified languages, we must have a way to come to an...


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