I’m Christina L. Truong

Linguist and language documentation practitioner

Address: 1890 East-West Road, Moore Hall 569, Honolulu, HI 96822 USA

Email: cltruong AT hawaii DOT edu

I’m a linguist with a PhD in Linguistics from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. My interests are language documentation, Austronesian languages, syntax, phonology, typology, and language technology. My dissertation research focused on typological and functional aspects of western Austronesian applicative constructions. I’ve done fieldwork in Indonesia and Malaysia. During my time at UH, I especially enjoyed teaching undergraduates about the linguistic history and diversity of the Pacific and joining in projects with other language documentation practitioners in North America, Asia, and the Pacific.

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On the rise of applicatives in West Nusantara

Christina L. Truong

Themed panel presentation at the 16th International Conference on Austronesian Linguistics

Slides here.

This study examines the distribution of applicative constructions in Malayo-Polynesian languages of West Nusantara, and the relationships between applicatives, geographic location, genetic affiliation, and other typological features of language. Eighty-five languages were sampled across genetic groupings indigenous to West Nusantara (Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, and Indonesia west of Lombok) by geographic subregion. Using existing descriptive, lexical, and pedagogical resources, each language was evaluated for the presence of applicative constructions in which morphological marking on the predicate coincides with selection of a peripheral semantic role as a core argument (Peterson 2007). Data on structural properties, including word order, alignment, voice system, and case marking, and semantic and syntactic properties of the applicative constructions were also compiled. Analysis was conducted using geospatial mapping, and statistical tests for non-random association (Pearson’s exact tests) and evaluation of possible classification trees (Random Forest algorithm, see Breiman 2001).

The results indicate that applicative constructions distinct from major voice alternations are an areal feature of West Nusantara associated with the breakdown of Philippine-type voice. Furthermore, genetic affiliation and geographic subregion are strongly predictive of the presence or absence of applicatives, with contact-induced change being implicated for the lack of applicatives in most of Borneo and mainland Southeast Asia. The presence of applicatives otherwise cuts across types of voice system (e.g. symmetrical, asymmetrical), alignment (e.g. ergative, accusative, mixed), word order (e.g. verb-initial, verb-medial) and case marking (e.g. case marking particles, pronominal distinctions, no case marking). This cast doubts on the usefulness of a proposed Indonesian-type of western Austronesian languages associated with applicatives (see Himmelmann 2005). Some features of applicative constructions are quite stable, including the distribution of beneficiary/instrument/theme-selecting functions and locative/goal-selecting functions across separate morphemes. This distribution and other evidence from remnant constructions and historical comparative studies point to West Nusantara applicative constructions being developed from earlier LV and CV Philippine-type voice constructions.

Western Austronesian applicative constructions: Function and typological approaches

Christina L. Truong

Ph.D. Dissertation

Download manuscript here

This dissertation investigates applicatives in the western Austronesian languages of Indonesia,
Malaysia, Brunei, and Singapore—that is, West Nusantara—and adjacent areas of the Philippines
and mainland Southeast Asia. As used in this study, an applicative construction (AC) is a kind of
clausal construction in which overt morphology on the verbal complex coincides with the selection of a peripheral semantic role (e.g. beneficiary, goal, instrument) as a core clausal argument.
In many of these languages, applicative alternations signaled by such verbal morphology—as
well as causative, aspectual, and semantic alternations signaled by the same morphemes—shape
and color the use of verbal predicates throughout the entire language.

A primary goal of the study is to understand the applicative systems of West Nusantara in
typological context, but also on their own terms, in the context of the diachronic and synchronic
systems in which they developed and are used. Special attention is also given to broadening the
description and cross-linguistic comparison of West Nusantara ACs and their functions, properties, and usage.

Valency and argumenthood in Sundanese applicative constructions

Christina L. Truong 

Paper presented at the 9th International Symposium on Languages of Java, 20 May 2023

Slides available here

This paper concerns applicative constructions in Sundanese, the principal language spoken in West Java, Indonesia. Like many other western Indonesian languages, Sundanese makes use of applicative morphemes (AM) which affect the syntactic and semantic properties of the verbal clause when they are affixed to the verb stem. In linguistic typology, applicative constructions are widely understood to be marked by overt morphology, and to “allow the coding of a thematically peripheral argument or adjunct as a core argument” (Peterson 2007:1). In Sundanese, when the verbal stem bears apparent AM affixes, a thematically peripheral semantic role is selected to map to a clausal constituent, i.e., the applied phrase. However, syntactic coding of the applied phrase varies across and within AM-marked constructions. While it may show coding associated with core arguments, i.e., an unmarked NP, sometimes it takes the form of a PP instead. Given these facts, how should we understand the function of these affixes and the status of the applied phrase in Sundanese?

Using original primary data, published literature, and corpus resources, I examine three Sundanese constructions: the goal-selecting construction marked with -an, the theme-selecting construction marked with -keun, and the beneficiary-selecting construction marked with pang–keun. Clauses marked with these three AMs show different patterns of possible syntactic coding of the applied phrase and the companion phrase, i.e., the constituent that maps to the semantic role expressed as the P argument of the base verb. Even so, examination of the semantic and inferential properties of AM-marked clauses using tests from Riesberg (2014) demonstrates that these constructions have an identifiable and consistent semantic structure, and that the applied phrase shows properties of a clausal argument, rather than an adjunct, even when coded as a PP. This shows that certain syntactic properties of ACs (e.g., relative syntactic valency, syntactic coding of arguments) often do not correlate with their stable semantic properties. Thus, careful examination of semantic properties is key to developing an adequate typology of the AM-marked verbs in western Indonesian languages and the observed range of structures found with them in usage, especially those that differ from expected forms and accepted definitions for applicatives.