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Seminar: Variation in Raga, Marie Duhamel, 28 June

Australian National University, Nicholas Evans, Wellsprings

Date: 13 June 2019

Seminar: Variation in Raga: a quantitative and qualitative study of the language of North Pentecost, Vanuatu

Speaker: Marie Duhamel

When: 28 June 2019, 1.45pm-3.15pm

Where: Hedley Bull Theatre 2, Hedley Bull Building ANU


This study on the Raga language of north-central Vanuatu considers several aspects of the connection between linguistic features and human behaviours. It is sociolinguistic on this account, and it is also essentially a field study, firmly grounded in the survey of the social and linguistic data collected in North Pentecost, in the period 2015-2017.

In this talk I will report on the combined quantitative and qualitative investigation of variation in this Oceanic language. The quantitative analysis confirms that Raga presents inter-speaker variation, but I propose that several social factors contribute to supressing the spread of innovative variants, thus favouring the remarkable linguistic uniformity that we observe in this 6500-strong speech community.

I will first outline the typological singularities revealed by two variables, lexical and morphosyntactic, and the rest of my talk will focus on the qualitative analysis of my study. Young women were found to borrow significantly more from Bislama into Raga and this will be discussed in the context of the changing aspirations of women in this community. The young men were observed to delete significantly more a phonetic variable, the velar fricative, but the older group of men also tend to delete this consonant. This made me consider whether the prestigious older speakers of this community should be seen as a source of linguistic influence, whether conservative or innovative. The interpretation of the social distribution of this variable raised another question: is there a possibility that the speakers do not evaluate linguistic features in those communities that treasure linguistic diversity?

Moving away from the interpretation of the linguistic variables, I will explore two of the social factors that favour Raga’s linguistic uniformity: the high status of the speech community and its traditional endogamy. Finally, I will put this study back in the context of the Wellsprings of Linguistic Diversity project and suggest what we can infer about global diversity from this study on linguistic variation in a minority language.

This event is a part of the Wellsprings of Linguistic Diversity Project

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