Workshop: Austroasiatic Syntax in Areal and Diachronic Perspective (2016): Chiang Mai

September 5-7, 2016
Hosted by: Myanmar Center, Chiang Mai University, Thailand

With financial support from:
-The Max Planck Institute, Jena (Science of Human History, Linguistic and Cultural Evolution)
-The University of Zurich (Department of Comparative Linguistics)

See the report on the workshop here.


Mathias Jenny (University of Zurich)
Paul Sidwell (Australian National University)


At the ICAAL6 meeting (Siem Reap, July 30 2015) it was decided to reduce the frequency of full conferences and to form an “Austroasiatic Working Group”, a network of scholars to meet occasionally and focus on producing programmatically focused output (as opposed to the open ICAAL meetings).

The proposal is to hold a 3 day working meeting September 5-7th 2016, involving 15-18 scholars, at the University of Chiang Mai (Thailand). The Myanmar Studies Center of Chiang Mai University (CMU), where Mathias Jenny is a member of the academic advisory board, will arrange the necessary infrastructure, including a seminar room at the University internal rate, lunch and coffee breaks, as well as student assistants, and help with the general organization of the workshop.

We intend to bring together 15-18 scholars working in critical areas of historical-linguistic reconstruction, typology, statistical methods in linguistics, and phylogenetic methods to build an evolutionary model of the development of Austroasiatic syntax, integrating internal descent with modification and contact driven change, with robust – statistically testable – methods.

Topic: “Testing Linguistic Areality: Austroasiatic historical syntax.”

The Austroasiatic ( AA) phylum sits at the heart of the SEAsian Linguistic Area (SEALA), perhaps the most remarked upon type case of linguistic convergence of disparate language families. Yet the very notion of “areality” and the mechanisms that are assumed to underlie it have recently come under renewed scrutiny. It has been asserted that various widely accepted assumptions are poorly supported empirically and theoretically, with the most influential studies lacking granularity and methodological rigor.

AA is the key to testing SEAsian areality. It is one of the major stocks of mainland SEAsia, but with Munda and Nicobarese it provides a control group of two major branches outside of mainland SEA. The AA languages are now sufficiently documented, and subjected to such comparative-historical analyses, that it is now possible (and imperative) to seriously reconstruct historical syntax, branch by branch, based on internal reconstruction informed by word-order typology, morphological reconstruction, and historical syntax-phonology interface. One point that is especially striking in comparative AA syntax is the wide range of word order types found in the family. While verb-final in Munda languages can be explained as areal influence from neighbouring South Asian languages and the general verb-medial order found in most non-Munda branches are well embedded in their areal surroundings, a number of (especially peripheral) languages exhibit verb-initial order or traces thereof. In most cases no contact influence can be adduced as explanation, and spontaneous change to verb-initial is apparently unlikely and rare cross-linguistically. These cases need to be explored and explained in more detail, as they are potentially of eminent importance for the reconstruction of AA syntax. The results can be calibrated against an analysis of word-order typology in contact languages, to identify statistically significant correlations and conflicts.

We propose to bring together specialists in Austroasiatic reconstruction, syntactic reconstruction, areality, typology and statistical methods, to a working meeting on this theme with the following rough outline:

Day 1: presentation and discussion of papers, circulated ahead of time. (Open to CMU staff and students)

Day 2: critical discussion of hypotheses, results, methods.

Day 3: synthesis and way forward.

The intention is to encourage the most robust critical and constructive engagement among participants to yield breakthrough progress and produce a programmatically coherent path forward with strong implications for Austroasiatic and areal linguistics generally.

Click here for the position paper.

The organizers have received funding from the MPI Jena and the University of Zurich to cover accommodation for all participants in Chiang Mai as well as travel costs for participants from Asian countries.

Confirmed participants

Mathias Jenny (University of Zurich)

Paul Sidwell (Australian National University)

Felix Rau (Universität zu Köln)

KV Subbarao (University of Hyderabad)

Yamada Atsushi (Japan Health Care College)

Hiram Ring (NTU Singapore)

Ellie Hall (Payap University, SIL International)

Paul Widmer (University of Zurich)

Rikker Dockum (Yale University)

Patrick McCormick (University of Zurich)

Bikram Jora (Living Tongues Institute)

Mayuri Dilip (University of Hyderabad)

Mark Alves (Montgomery College)

Gregory Anderson (Living Tongues Institute)

Mark Donohue (Australian National University)

Siujaritlak Deepadung (Mahidol University)