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.

Neglected functions of western Indonesian applicative morphology

Christina L. Truong & Bradley McDonnell (2022)

In Sara Pacchiarotti and Fernando Zuñiga (eds.), Applicative morphology: Neglected syntactic and non-syntactic functions (Trends in Linguistics 373), 405-436. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter Mouton. https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110777949.

Many of the Austronesian languages of western Indonesia make use of applicative morphology that licenses a core argument with a peripheral semantic role, such as a location, beneficiary, goal, or instrument. However, the same morphology that forms these prototypical applicative constructions is consistently polyfunctional across the languages of western Indonesia. A number of these functions fall outside of what is often considered prototypical of applicatives, resulting in a diversity of syntactic, semantic, and even pragmatic effects. In this chapter, we describe the diversity of functions of applicative suffixes in nine western Indonesian languages that are geographically dispersed across the region and represent different subgroups, highlighting “neglected” functions that are often not discussed in the literature on applicatives. In doing so, we show that there is considerable overlap between forms, functions, and morphosyntactic properties across these languages, but despite these similarities, variation among and within applicative constructions in these languages presents a complex synchronic and diachronic picture.

The non-Malayic languages of Sumatra and the Barrier Islands

Bradley J. McDonnell & Christina L. Truong

To appear in Adelaar, Alexander and Antoinette Schapper (eds.), The Oxford Guide to the Malayo-Polynesian Languages of Southeast Asia (Oxford Guides to the World’s Languages). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Publisher link: Forthcoming, May 2023.

In this chapter, we present a typological overview of the non-Malayic Malayo-Polynesian languages of Sumatra and the Barrier Islands (NMLS). These languages are extremely diverse. They share few typological features other than those due to their shared Austronesian inheritance, their general geographic position, and the contact they have all had with Malayic languages. Section 1 describes the consonant and vowel inventories, stress, and phonological processes. Section 2 presents an overview of common affixes and morphological processes in the languages. Section 3 covers basic syntactic properties including grammatical relations, case, agreement, word order, and noun phrase structure. Section 4 describes some aspects of tense, aspect, modality, and mood in NMLS. Section 5 summarizes the chapter and describes directions for further research including the need for more documentation and description of NMLS. The principal languages we draw on for our typological generalizations and examples include: Acehnese, Gayo, Karo Batak, Toba Batak, Simeulue, Sikule, Nias, Mentawai, Enggano Rejang, Nasal, and Lampung.