Nam Noi | People
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PEOPLE

As leader of the Nam Noi Project, I will be working together with team members on all aspects of the project’s work. I will also contribute with a fieldwork-based descriptive study of Kri, a Vietic language spoken in the most upstream villages of the Nam Noi Valley. I have conducted fieldwork with Kri speakers in the Nam Noi valley since 2004.

My role in this project is to assess the level of convergence that has taken place between the languages involved. I’ll be working with field data from Nick, Weijian, and Gus to analyse the similarities between Kri, Bru, and and Sek, in terms of their phonology and syntax. More broadly, I aim to investigate questions such as: ‘How can we measure the similarity of languages?’, ‘How strongly are similarities between languages influenced by genealogical and areal processes?’, ‘By what mechanisms are linguistic items transferred between languages?’, and ‘Does the functioning of a language as a system impact what kind of linguistic items are shared in a language area?’. When not studying language convergence I enjoy bad movies, pumping iron, and big dogs.

What I’ll do with the Sek language is similar to what mathematicians have done with the Fibonacci Sequence. First, collect a representative sample of the language in use: [1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, …]. Then observe the pattern: starting from the 3rd number, each number is the sum of the two preceding ones. With this recursive pattern, we can predict the utterances that we have not yet observed: [21, 34, 55, …]–but this is not the end of the story. After a lot of hard work, we achieve the generalization with maximal precision and compactness: any nth number in the sequence can be calculated as:

I’ll be working on a grammar of the Bru language. As well as describing the relations between elements of the symbolic system (phonology, morphology, syntax), I’ll also look at the non-symbolic side of language; the way speakers reason with context, and especially the effects this has on the grammar. Our field situation, in which three distinct codes overlap in contexts of speaking, offers a high level of access to the answers to important questions: how does context feed linguistic structure? How do languages overlap in their answer to the first question? How do they differ?

As research associate on the project, I will work across the Kri, Sek, and Bru-speaking communities. Using a combination of participant observation, analysis of face-to-face interaction, sociological fact gathering (interviews, genealogies, and surveys), and ethnographic collaboration with the team, I will explore the sociality and ideologies of ethnolinguistic differentiation that circulate around the Nam Noi valley.