ICAAL 4 (2009): Bangkok

The Fourth International Conference on Austroasiatic Linguistics was held in Bangkok, Thailand, October 29-30, 2009. The meeting was held at the Research Institute for Language and Culture of Asia, Salaya campus of Mahidol University, where the Department of Linguistics did a great job of organising and running the meeting, especially due to the efforts of Prof. Sophana Srichampa and her staff. There were some 92 official participants, delivering 70 papers over two very long days. Reflecting the meeting theme of “An Austroasiatic Family Reunion” participants came from a wide range of Asian countries including Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Singapore and China, as well as western countries.

Participants from the host institution made an especially significant contribution discussing projects which are documenting and revitalizing endangered languages of Thailand, under the leadership of Prof. Suwilai Premsrirat.

Comparative and historical papers were also prominent. Papers hoping to discover the Austroasiatic homeland, and other historical questions, were delivered by George van Driem (Netherlands), Paul Sidwell (Australia), Michel Ferlus (France), Roger Blench (Britain), Gerard Diffloth (Cambodia). These there was also discussion of the application of new statistical methods in language classification (originally developed for genetics), with papers read by Russell Grey (New Zealand), Jerry Edmondson (USA) and Kenneth Gregerson (USA).

Very important was the participation of scholars from South Asia, made possible by financial support provided the Centre for Research in Computational Linguistics (Bangkok), which was also a partner in organising and running the meeting. All up there were nine papers concerning the Munda, Khasi and Nicobar languages spoken in India and elsewhere in South Asia.

The Keynote address was delivered by retired Prof. of Southeast Asian Linguistics at Cornell, Franklin Huffman. Frank worked in Southeast Asia during the 1960s and 1970s, and among his achievements were the development of extensive teaching materials, and a widely used dictionary, for Cambodian. So influential was this work, that some have credited him with “saving the Cambodian language” after the chaotic Khmer-Rouge years destroyed so much educational and cultural infrastructure.

Below are some images from the meeting kindly provided by Roger Blench. The text above is cribbed from a report I (PS) wrote at the time.