Submitted Theses

Thesis: Variation in Raga A quantitative and qualitative study of the language of North Pentecost, Vanuatu

Marie-France DuhamelPhD: Marie-France Duhamel

Supervisor: Nick Evans

Submission year: 2020

CoEDL node: Australian National University 

CoEDL program: Wellsprings

Abstract:

Within the framework of the Wellsprings of Linguistic Diversity project (2014-2019), this thesis investigates the existence and spread of linguistic variation in the speech community of Raga /raɣa/, on the island of Pentecost, in linguistically diverse Vanuatu. It is primarily a field study, firmly grounded in the survey of social and linguistic data collected in 2015-2017 in north Pentecost, from 58 men and women representing three generations of speakers.

Raga presents little innovation from the reconstructed proto forms, and no regional diversity. These features set the language apart within the Vanuatu high-diversity context. This thesis examines variables in three different linguistic domains. Quantitative analysis has confirmed intergenerational and intergender variation for the lexical and phonological variables. This study then investigates the mechanisms of uniformisation that inhibit the spread of innovative variants in this community of 6,500 speakers. Several factors combine to favour the linguistic conservatism exhibited by Raga. Endogamous marriage practices, maintenance of strong ties with relatives over long distances and generations, reliance on customary mutual obligations, high socio-historical status of the Raga society, and practice of a single religion all impact on the homogeneity of avoana ata raga ‘the language of Raga’.

With the notable exception of Meyerhoff’s studies of Nkep (Meyerhoff 2015, 2016, 2017a, 2017b), there has been little attempt at probing linguistic variability in the recorded natural speech of diverse speakers of a language of Vanuatu. This thesis adds to the body of research that addresses this gap. It also highlights the value of investigating languages in their social context, and in close collaboration with native speakers. This bottom-up approach is essential in identifying and untangling the factors at play in the complex history of Vanuatu’s linguistic diversity.

Open access: https://openresearch-repository.anu.edu.au/handle/1885/205516

Thesis: Language In My Mouth: Linguistic Variation in the Nmbo Speech Community of Southern New Guinea

Eri KashimaPhD: Eri Kashima

Submission year: 2020

Supervisor: Nicholas Evans

CoEDL node: Australian National University 

CoEDL program: Shape & Wellsprings

Abstract:

This thesis is a mixed-methods investigation into the question of the sociolinguistics of linguistic diversity in Papua New Guinea. Social and cultural traits of New Guinean speech communities have been hypothesised as conducive to language differentiation and diversification (Laycock 1991, Thurston 1987, 1992, Foley 2000, Ross 2001), however there have been few empirical studies to support these hypotheses. In this thesis I investigate linguistic micro-variations within a contemporary New Guinean speech community, with the goal of identifying socio-cultural pressures that affect language variation and change. The community under investigation is the Nmbo speech community located in the Morehead area of Southern New Guinea.

Open access: https://openresearch-repository.anu.edu.au/handle/1885/201927

Thesis: Kundangkudjikaberrk: Language variation and change in Bininj Kunwok, a Gunwinyguan language of Northern Australia

Alex MarleyPhD: Alexandra Marley

Submission year: 2020

Supervisor: Nicholas Evans

CoEDL node: Australian National University 

CoEDL program: Shape & Wellsprings

Abstract:

This thesis presents a pan-dialectal and cross-generational description and analysis of variation in Bininj Kunwok, a Gunwinyguan language of west Arnhem Land with a number of regional varieties. At around 2000 speakers and with children still acquiring it as a first language, is one of the strongest Australian Aboriginal languages. This thesis brings together a series of case studies on variation in Bininj Kunwok, examining linguistic and social variables and analysing them through a range of complementary theoretical frameworks. The case studies cover a range of variables, including word-initial engma deletion, pronominal neutralisation and regularisation, loanword strategies, kin terms, and paradigm variation. Such an approach allowed for multiple linguistic levels to be analysed: phonological, morphosyntactic, syntactic, paradigmatic, lexical, and semantic. The analyses undertaken here build on the development of the Bininj Kunwok Corpus undertaken through this project. Combining my own recordings with those of previous researchers, I built a sizable corpus of around 27.5 hours of speech. As the corpus has an apparent time depth of a century, not only was a comprehensive analysis of synchronic variation possible, but also diagnosis of changes in progress. Cross-generational comparison of speaker data shows a phonological change in progress, increasing regularisation of pronominal forms, and vast variation in paradigmatic structures. The huge amount of variation in Bininj Kunwok points towards a society that permits and even promotes linguistic variation at the individual level, creating an environment highly favourable to fostering and maintaining diversity. Taken together, the above studies give a detailed picture of variation within an Australian language. By incorporating a number of complementary methodological and theoretical frameworks to examine a suite of variables, this thesis lays the groundwork for a new direction in variationist studies, and for an understanding of the socio-cultural forces that have shaped, and continue to shape, the great linguistic diversity found on the Australian continent.

Open access: https://openresearch-repository.anu.edu.au/handle/1885/216347

Thesis: Multilevel dynamics of language diversity and disparity in Oceania

Hedvig SkirgardPhD: Hedvig Skirgard

Submission year: 2021

Supervisor: Nick Evans

CoEDL node: Australian National University

CoEDL program: Shape & Wellsprings

Abstract:

There are more than 7,000 languages on our planet today and they are not evenly distributed over the population. Why might this be? This thesis explores the dynamics of language diversification in Remote Oceania, where some islands have 20 times the number of languages of others. In this thesis I investigate, first, environmental and social factors of language proliferation; second, grammatical and lexical dissimilarity of island groups; third, stability of grammatical features and grammatical conservatism of Oceanic languages; and fourth the particular case of language variation in Samoan. Remote Oceania consists of Temotu, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, Fiji, Polynesia and Micronesia. The region was settled more recently than the rest of Oceania (3,500 years ago) and entirely by Austronesian speakers. Through studies in archaeology, history and linguistics much is known of migration patterns and societal organisation. The comparatively shallow time depth, relatedness of the languages and established knowledge about the history of this region makes it an ideal base for understanding of language diversification. There is a large discrepancy between the number of languages per island group in Remote Oceania. There are over 100 languages in Vanuatu and but one in Samoa. What could be the cause of this discrepancy? Scholars have suggested reasons such as societal organisation, environmental factors and settlement time. Statistically modelling languages per island group given environmental, archaeological and societal variables in this thesis shows that the primary factors in the proliferation of languages in the sample are likely to be political complexity, time depth and island area. The impact of political complexity is most probably due to the fact that more hierarchical societies lead to more interactions and cohesion over large distances, which reduces language splitting. However, counts of languages are not enough when studying language diversification, it is also important to consider linguistic dissimilarity. Do languages of certain island groups stand out as unusually varied in their structure or vocabulary? The results show that no island group stands out as containing unusually high levels of structural disparity, but that Temotu, New Caledonia and, to a lesser extent, Southern Vanuatu have higher levels of lexical divergence than the rest. This finding is consistent with previous literature on "aberrant" Oceanic languages. This thesis also explores the stability of structural features, and conservatism of Oceanic languages, using computational phylogenetic methods for ancestral state reconstruction. The two computational methods of Maximum Parsimony and Maximum Likelihood methods largely concur with findings in historical linguistics as to the grammar of Oceanic proto-languages. However there are few features which are consistently stable across both methods. The most conservative island group of the Oceanic subgroup is the Bismarck archipelago, which is consistent with established theories of the homeland of the Oceanic subgroup. Among the most structurally progressive are Central Pacific, which runs counter to measurements of the lexical retention rate of the languages there. Finally, we take a closer look at one language of the region in particular and the language variation there - Samoan. While we do not find regional variation that can cause a split, there is still substantial variation present - but tied to the social sphere. Samoa has not historically been centrally governed, but village district chiefly offices may have been more stable and may have been enough to retard internal diversification and splitting. In conclusion, change and diversity is conditioned by many local social, historical and environmental conditions - social structure potentially being one of the most powerful. Structure and lexicon, operate under different evolutionary constraints and can tell different stories of the past.

Open access: https://openresearch-repository.anu.edu.au/handle/1885/218982

  • Australian Government
  • The University of Queensland
  • Australian National University
  • The University of Melbourne
  • Western Sydney University