Alor-Pantar languages: Origins and theoretical impact
Prof Greville G. Corbett Dr Matthew Baerman Prof Dunstan Brown Dr Sebastian Fedden
Period of award
October 2009 - September 2012
Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) through European Science Foundation-EuroBabel
The Alor-Pantar languages are a group of about 20 endangered non-Austronesian (“Papuan”) languages spoken on the islands Alor and Pantar in the eastern Indonesian province of Nusa Tenggara Timur. The Alor-Pantar languages are of special interest because, unlike other small language groups of eastern Indonesia, they have no established relatives but have been tentatively assigned to the Trans New Guinea family by some scholars.
This project concentrated on two typologically interesting phenomena in the Alor-Pantar languages. First, the system of pronominal prefixes on verbs and nouns, which is striking for (i) the unusual marking of objects/patients instead of subjects/agents, (ii) their high sensitivity to multiple semantic and pragmatic factors, which make them diagnostic of the interactions between multiple linguistic levels, and (iii) their co-occurrence, with distinct functional allocation, on different word classes. These phenomena can shed light on the semantic underpinnings of grammatical features.
The second focus was on the variety of ‘functional’ verbs, that is, verb lexemes which cross multiple syntactic and morphological categories, and call for an analytical framework that maintains the categorical distinctions necessary for a coherent theory of language, while at the same time admitting the fluidity of the attested facts.