John McWhorter

Columbia University
Talk Title: 
Affixless in Austronesian: The Flores Puzzle and What To Do About It
Event Type: 
Linguistics Lecture Series
Spring 2012
Friday, March 30, 2012, 3:30 pm - 5:00 pm
Humanities 1006

Of the roughly 1000 indigenous Austronesian languages, a mere half-dozen or so, spoken on the tiny island of Flores, are totally isolating. Common consensus, to the extent that these languages are considered at all, is that they simply "lost their morphology." However while diachronic linguistic theory is rich with mechanisms for the erosion of morphology to certain extents, there is no extant diachronic explanation for languages losing all of their inflectional morphology as a mere symptom of ordinary language-internal development. Rather, all theoretical orientations point to such a process as rooted in processes of second-language acquisition or pidginization. There is no evidence present or past that Flores was a plantation colony or involved in anything analogous to the colonial slave trade. However, in this talk I provide an account for the Flores puzzle derived from strong clues in the languages' lexicons as compared to those of nearby Austronesian languages, combined with the scanty but indicative evidence of the island's distant past.