View of Pantar Strait from Alor Kecil (photo: Gary Holton)

The Alor-Pantar Languages

The Alor-Pantar (AP) languages are a group of 15-20 non-Austronesian (“Papuan”) languages spoken on several islands in eastern Indonesia. They are of special interest because they have no established genetic relatives. A relationship to the Trans New Guinea family has been proposed, but remains highly disputed, due to the lack of language documentation. Documention of these languages has recently begun, but the material has yet to be analyzed in a rigorous fashion, and the theoretical linguistic community is largely unaware of these data. The implications for language classification, migration patterns, and morphosyntactic and semantic typology remain largely unexplored.

The project aims to document and analyze the AP languages, collecting high quality archival data to deepen our understanding of human language. It is divided into three Individual Projects: Extended Documentation, Word Class Typology and Linguistic Prehistory. The aims of Extended Documentation are (a) to study the spatial reference system of five of the AP languages, focusing on demonstrative systems, locative constructions, and landscape and toponymic terms; (ii) to document the numeral systems, investigating the structure and distribution of numerals, ordinals and numeral classifiers, the concepts they encode, their historical source, and their functional and lexical properties. Word Class Typology aims to investigate (i) the continuum between word classes and grammatical features; (ii) how morphosyntactic categories evolve from diffuse pragmatic and syntactic conditions; (iii) several particularly unusual morphosyntactic phenomena of the AP languages. Linguistic Prehistory aims to provide quantitative evidence for the genetic position of the AP languages, based on bottom-up reconstruction using the comparative method.

Now is a crucial time for this work: the AP languages are severely endangered but still have sufficient vitality to provide additional supporting documentation without difficulty. The quality of AP language data is likely to decline significantly over the next two decades as language shift progresses.


EuroBABEL brochure image
Click to view the EuroBABEL website

The EuroBABEL programme -- Better Analysis Based on Endangered Languages -- is a three-year initiative of the European Science Foundation which seeks to more fully integrate the documentation of endangered languages into linguistic research. The programme links 22 individual research projects gathered into five teams of researchers from nine different countries. These projects will undertaken empirical research on under-documented endangered languages in order to challenge and refine ideas about linguistic structure.


The University of Surrey will host a Dissemination Workshop on the Alor-Pantar languages at the British Academy, London, 14 September 2012. [more info]

Papuan Conf History, contact and classification of Papuan Languages
Project members will participate in the Conference on History, contact and classification of Papuan Languages at the Vrij Universiteit Amsterdam, 2-3 Feb 2012.

Pǟnini Award
Project member Dr. Antoinette Schapper was awarded the Panini Award for her dissertation on the Bunaq language of Timor. This award is given by the Association for Linguistic Typology in recognition of a dissertation grammar which provides a "a systematic, accessible, comprehensive, original, insightful and typologically well-informed account of the workings of the language being described, generously exemplified with natural data." The award was presented at the 2011 ALT meeting in Hong Kong.

International Conference on Historical Linguistics
Members of the Alor-Pantar EuroBABEL project will present at the upcoming International Conference on Historical Linguistics, July 25-30 in Osaka, Japan. []