Posted by: kookkhu | February 26, 2009


LANGUAGE HISTORY IN SOUTHEAST ASIAAnthony DillerVisiting Fellow, University of SydneyMay I express gratitude to HRH the late Princess Galayani Vadhana Kromluang NaradhiwasRajanagarindra for patiently attending to an earlier version of this paper and for offeringvaluable observations (including:” It is quite broad”). As readers will be aware, for years HerRoyal Highness has done much to further Southeast Asian linguistic and cultural studies. Iam grateful to others too who attended the SEALS 14 Bangkok conference for theircomments. An observation by Matisoff (1992) to the effect that Mainland Southeast Asia canbe seen as two linguistic areas, one upland, one lowland, started me thinking about whatfollows.1. Uphill and downhillThe attempt here is admittedly broad and programmatic. It is to probe a two-way question: inSoutheast Asia, to what extent has bilingualism historically moved ‘downhill’or downriver,while diglossia and diglossic processes have developed in coastal areas and then moved‘uphill’?For uphill-downhill questions to work linguistically, they must of course associateecology with cultural history and established ideas about the dynamics of contactlinguistics and linguistic stratification. Also, terminology needs to be controlled.‘Diglossia’can safely be used to describe the rather marked speech level systems ofJavanese and Balinese, but how freely should the term be extended? In the case of Malay,Burmese, Thai, Khmer and Vietnamese, speakers are keenly aware of communicativestratification in their languages and linguists would be in agreement, but levels andfunctions are less discrete. Perhaps ‘diglossic variation’is more appropriate for thesecases;‘register variation’seems too weak.As for bilingualism or multilingualism, clearly a downhill account could not beexclusive. In Island Southeast Asia, inter-island contact and maritime trade have beensuitable contexts for bilingual development; no hills or mountains need be in view.Mainland Southeast Asia has seen mass deportations with resettlement from one lowlandarea to another with new linguistic neighbors. For example, many thousands of currentbilinguals in Thailand have ancestors who were resettled from Mekhong valleys to theChao Phraya basin. These Thai-Lao speakers bear witness to how transportation can giverise to stable bilingualism lasting several generations. So the questions raised above mustfit into a broader enquiry considering issues only hinted at here.For the Thai case, Smalley (1994) has made good progress in this area, establishingan important principle well-known in other speech communities. He shows how socialhierarchy correlates with multilingualism in one key aspect: those lower down sociallytend to gain at least some facility in the speech of those higher up. In line with theecological picture investigated here, it remains to add that for much of Southeast Asia,


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