MA thesis defence: So close and yet so different: Reconstructing the phonological history of three Southern New Caledonian languages

14 June 2021 13:15 to 15:00 Seminar

Language and Linguistics, specialisation General Linguistics: William Zetterberg defends his master thesis "So close and yet so different: Reconstructing the phonological history of three Southern New Caledonian languages". Opponent: Helene Springer Examiner: Gerd Carling

This thesis investigates the phonological history of three languages of New Caledonia, an overseas special collectivity of France, located in southwest Pacific Ocean. New Caledonia is home to remarkable linguistic diversity, with around 28 distinct indigenous languages varieties spoken today. These languages, known as Kanak languages, are members of the Oceanic subgroup of the Austronesian language family. Most of these languages are spoken on the main island, Grande Terre, and are commonly organized into two subgroups, a Northern and a Southern group. The Southern languages have previously been proposed to form two distinct subgroups alongside the Northern subgroup, a Mid-Southern and Far-Southern subgroup respectively. However, little research has so far been conducted on the phonological history of the languages of the Mid-Southern group, and it has not been possible to systematically evaluate the position of these languages in relation to the languages of the Northern and Far-Southern subgroups. This thesis therefore focuses on three previously described members of the Mid-Southern group, Ajië, Tîrî, and Xârâcùù, with the aim to reconstruct the phonological structure of the last common ancestor of these languages. The goal of this reconstruction was to clarify the position of the Mid-Southern languages within the New Caledonian group. In order to reconstruct the phonological system of this common ancestor, a large set of lexical and morphological items were secondarily collected from various published wordlists and dictionaries in the three languages. From these, 266 sets of cognate words were compiled between the three languages, from which sound correspondences were generated. The correspondences between the languages were systematically analyzed, based on which predictions were made about phonological properties in the common proto-language. As such, this study presents the first phonological reconstruction of the ancestral form of the Mid-Southern languages of mainland New Caledonia. The results of this study indicate that many of the characteristic traits found in the Mid-Southern languages evolved already in the common Proto-Mid-South language. By further comparing the results with previous comparative work on the Northern and Far-Southern subgroups in comparison with higher-order Austronesian reconstructions, the phonological reconstruction present strong evidence in favor of a distinct Mid-Southern subgroup of the New Caledonian mainland, which is characterized by a number of phonological innovations that can be credited to the common ancestor, of which several cannot be reconstructed to the neighboring Northern and Far-Southern subgroups. 

Zetterberg 2021 defence version.pdf

About the event:

14 June 2021 13:15 to 15:00

Zoom: https://lu-se.zoom.us/j/515649730


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