ILS Colloquium


17 October 2019
15:30 - 17:00
Drift 21, Sweelinckzaal

Marian Klamer

Simplification of morphology in Austronesian-Papuan contact

Leiden University

Morphology can become simplified or lost over time, for instance when subject agreement on verbs is regularized or possessive markers on nouns are reduced. Morphological simplification may be the result of a language internal proces called ‘drift’, which is driven by universal principles of language development (e.g. the drive to get a transparent one-to-one relation between meaning and form, which over time might regularize irregular verb morphology).

Simplification of inflection can also be due to language contact. However, it is less straightforward to prove that simplification or loss of material is due to cross-linguistic contact, than it is to prove that contact resulted in the addition of material. In my talk I take up this challenge and present two case studies of inflectional simplification being due to language contact. Both cases involve small-scale speech communities in eastern Indonesia where an Austronesian language is in contact with a Papuan language.

The first study investigates simplification of verbal subject inflection in adult second language (L2) speakers of Alorese (Austronesian) who speak a Papuan first language (L1), compared to adult L1 speakers of Alorese. The second study investigates bilingual speakers in Abui (Papuan) and Malay (Austronesian), showing simplification in the nominal inflection of Abui, in particular in the use of so-called ‘reflexive possessive’ markers (The manj  carries hisj child) vs. non-reflexive possessive markers (The manj carries hisj/k child). In both cases, L2 speakers simplify morphological features that are not found in their L1, resorting to more general and frequent morphemes of their L2. As the observed simplification does not occur in monolinguals, it is argued to be contact-induced, and not the result of drift.


Marian Klamer (1965) is Professor of Austronesian and Papuan Linguistics at Leiden University. Klamer has worked on Austronesian and Papuan languages in Indonesia for some twenty five years, and has published on a wide range of topics including the morphology, typology, grammaticalization, language contact, and historical reconstruction of languages in Indonesia. She published grammars of two Austronesian languages (Kambera, 1998; Alorese, 2011) and two Papuan languages (Teiwa, 2010; Kaera, 2014). Currently, she is leading the NWO-VICI project ‘Reconstructing the past through languages of the present: The Lesser Sunda Islands’ (2014-2019), which studies contact-induced change in Austronesian and Papuan languages spoken by small-scale communities in eastern Indonesia.