Nam Noi | TIMELINE & METHODS
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TIMELINE & METHODS

The project will feature three strands, building up over three years. The following diagram shows the timeline for the project, specifying the involvement of the team members (nb. ‘FW’ = fieldwork; note also that internal workshops will be held at Month 13 and at Month 25, when the PIs are involved first-hand with comparing and assessing the outcomes of fieldwork by CI, R Assoc, PhD1 and PhD2):

Strand 1. Document the three linguistic systems and their communities’ social interrelations

Strand 1 (spanning the project, from months 1-36) will achieve a core project goal, and will supply core findings for further goals. Two interconnected sub-projects will be undertaken in Strand 1, the first consisting of three parallel language description sub-projects (by the CI, PhD1 and PhD2), each on a different ethnolinguistic group in the Nam Noy area, and the second involving an integrated study (by the R Assoc, with input from CI, PhD1, and PhD2) of the extent and nature of social interrelations among the groups. Here is some basic information:

 

EthnonymKriBru (= Brou)Sek (= Saek)
Location in valleyUpstream sectionDownstream/WestDownstream/East
Populationca. 300ca. 350ca. 400
Language affiliationVietic (Austroasiatic)Katuic (Austroasiatic)Northern Tai (Tai-Kadai)
Presence in areaancientca. 100 yearsca. 250 years
Livelihoodprimarily shifting
cultivation
primarily shifting cultivationprimarily paddy cultivation
Phonologyphonation registervowel registertone
Derivational morphologypresentminimalabsent

 

These three groups have relatively intensive and stable interrelations, yet have slightly different prestige relative to each other. They may be ranked in terms of their relative wealth and technological expertise (Sek>Bru>Kri). The groups maintain structured social relations, including trade, arrangements for shared land use, and intermarriage.


Strand 1, Goal 1:
to produce reference descriptions of the main features of the grammatical system of each of the three languages, along with substantial word lists and notes on ethnographic context. The objective is to produce comprehensive reference grammars following best practice in the discipline. These will constitute the entire PhD projects of PhD1 and PhD2. (A reference grammar of Kri is already partially completed by Enfield, based on previous field trips in the area; it is estimated that two-thirds of the necessary field work is already completed, partly published as Enfield and Diffloth 2009; therefore, the CI will require less time in the field than the two PhDs will.) Each description will provide data and analysis of the linguistic system under the essential headings of phonology, form classes, inflection, derivation, argument structure, and so on. For a PhD student, a reference grammar project is ambitious, but there are many successful and valuable precedents for this, showing that it is both feasible, professionally rewarding, and a lasting contribution to the discipline.
These three groups have relatively intensive and stable interrelations, yet have slightly different prestige relative to each other. They may be ranked in terms of their relative wealth and technological expertise (Sek>Bru>Kri). The groups maintain structured social relations, including trade, arrangements for shared land use, and intermarriage.

Strand 1, Goal 2: The R Assoc, with input from the other field workers throughout Strand 1, will carry out a systematic sociolinguistic and social network study of the three communities speaking these languages. The Nam Noy valley situation provides a unique opportunity for this kind of social analysis because of the small size of the populations involved. It means that the team members will be able to meet every socially mobile individual in the three communities, giving a rare degree and kind of oversight of the social networks being studied. This element of the project will develop an integrated methodology for the ‘synchronic’ study of language contact in social networks, combining the following three established methods, working with members of all three communities:

  Participant observation, entailing the flexible pursuit of first-hand involvement in activities that villagers would normally be involved in independent from the presence of the researcher; including accompanying people on inter-village travel, attending social and ritual occasions, observing trade activities, hunting, agriculture, etc.

  Semi-structured interviews with a wide range of community members about their social relations within and across communities; the content of these interviews will develop over time with accumulating data and knowledge as the project progresses; these interviews will focus on teasing apart differences between local people’s ideologies (or metasocial judgements) of their social interrelations versus the reality of the situations.

  Questionnaire, to be administered in a late stage, with standardized questions based on findings of the observation and interview methods; these will include questions about trade relations, intermarriage relations, travel/overnight stays in other villages, living in other villages, attendance at social events (weddings etc.), the borrowing of money, rice, or tools, getting labor assistance, getting technical/know-how assistance.

On the basis of this integrated approach, the R Assoc together with other team members will provide in-depth qualitative and quantitative data and analysis of social relations within, and between, the three language communities. This will form the basis of a significant stand-alone journal article (target journals include Current Anthropology and American Sociological Review), and will also feed into Strand 3 of the project.

 

Strand 2. Measure the degree of convergence among the languages

Strand 2 (months 13-36) draws directly on outputs from work in Strand 1. The goal of Strand 2 is to systematically compare the descriptions yielded from Strand 1 research, and measure the degree of convergence among the languages in a way that is both detailed and sensitive to the system properties of the languages and the historical relatedness (or not) among the languages. Measurement of convergence will be both quantitative and qualitative.

The quantitative method will use—and further develop—the algorithm developed by Dahl (2008) for determining typological distance between languages, based on 219 typological features. Graded features are defined as fractions of 1. Other features are binary. The distance between two languages is the average difference between the values for all the features defined for both languages. With this algorithm, Dahl demonstrated the high degree of structural convergence, in world terms, among languages of mainland SE Asia, which had been asserted earlier based on much smaller sets of features. We will apply the algorithm for our 3-language comparison, and we will augment the data points that Dahl used, both by adding more features to be measured and compared, and by fine-tuning the specifications of these features to fit the relevant categories of the grammars of SE Asian languages. This fine-tuning will be done in consultation/collaboration with the expert and specialist Partner Investigators.

The qualitative method will be a more nuanced comparison, with expert contributions from Partner Investigators, in two subprojects. Partner Investigators, in collaboration with the other team members, will analyze and assess the descriptive findings on the three languages for the degree of convergence in the two major components of the linguistic system: the sound system and the morphosyntactic system, as follows:

 

Strand 2, Subproject 1:  convergence in sound systems

The PI from Chulalongkorn University—an expert in the phonetics, phonology, and history of the Austroasiatic and Tai languages of MSEA (see Pittayaporn 2009, 2013)—will make a detailed qualitative assessment of the degree of convergence in the sound systems of the three languages. This will require close examination of data from ongoing research in Strand 1, and sustained consultation with the research team. In Sydney, the PI will work with the field team after the first period of fieldwork. With access to the data that have been collected, including high-quality sound recordings of core vocabulary, and extensive evidence for phonological distinctions, the Chulalongkorn PI will feed new questions and recommendations back into the fieldwork plans for the second period of fieldwork. With subsequent data from the fieldwork-based Strand 1 work, the Chulalongkorn PI will re-engage with the field team and proceed with a final qualitative analysis of convergence in the sound systems of the three languages.

 

Strand 2, Subproject 2:  convergence in morphosyntactic systems

The two PIs from Hong Kong University—experts in the grammatical typology and history of languages of East and Southeast Asia, as well as in the processes of creolization and bilingual learning (see Ansaldo and Matthews 2001, Ansaldo 2009a, b, Yip and Matthews 2007)—will make a detailed qualitative assessment of the degree of convergence in the morphosyntactic systems of the three languages, informed by their expertise in the isolating-analytic typological profiles of languages of this area of the world. This will require a close examination of results from Strand 1, and sustained consultation with the research team. In Sydney, they will work with the field team after the first period of fieldwork. With access to the data that have been collected, including the standard evidence for the range of morphosyntactic structures that a reference grammar must contain (e.g., in Matthews and Yip 1994 or Enfield 2007), the Hong Kong PIs will feed new questions and recommendations back into fieldwork plans for the second period of fieldwork. With subsequent data from the fieldwork-based Strand 1 research, the Hong Kong PIs will re-engage with the field teams and proceed with a final qualitative analysis of convergence in the morphosyntactic systems of the three languages.

Outputs from Strand 2, both suitable for publication, and both feeding into Strand 3, will be:

   – Detailed description and analysis of phonological convergence in the three languages.

   – Detailed description and analysis of morphosyntactic convergence in the three languages.

 

Strand 3. Test possible causal explanations of the role of language in maintaining or reinforcing the observed stable ethnic boundaries.

At the beginning of Strand 3 (months 28-36), team members will have two major resources in hand as prerequisites for their activities: first, from Strand 1, comprehensive descriptions of the grammatical structures of the languages, and of the interethnic social network relations between the communities; and second, from Strand 2, explicit measures, both quantitative and qualitative, of convergence at the system level among the languages.

The aim of Strand 3 is to bring the CI, R Assoc, and Partner Investigators together to collectively and systematically assess the upshot of the findings of the first two phases. The specific objective is to determine whether there are identifiable causal relations between the findings of Strands 1 and 2.  Essential to the design of this project, there are three languages, which means that there are three binary measures of convergence among them—Kri-Sek, Sek-Bru, and Bru-Kri—which will each have been quantified in Strand 2. And we will have, from the second subproject in Strand 1, three binary measures of degree and kind of interethnic relation between each pair of language communities.  In Strand 3, we will therefore be able to see in what ways these three pairwise relations correlate, and potentially whether they can be shown to be related causally. Causal relations will be articulated in terms of the biased transmission framework of linguistic and cultural change (Enfield 2014). With special expertise on historical relations among Austroasiatic languages and among Tai languages (Pittayaporn), we can control for, and properly interpret, the different degrees and kinds of relatedness among the three languages. And with special expertise on the typological effects of language contact in particular kinds of social-historical context in this part of the world (Matthews and Ansaldo), we can explicitly take correlations between degree of language convergence and mode of interethnic relations in the Nam Noy case and compare them with cases that have only been hypothesized about, because these took place in the distant past (e.g., the historical relationship between Tai languages and Sinitic languages in the mainland Southeast Asia/Southern China area).

The completion of Strand 3 will involve finalizing and writing up the findings of these analyses, both within the context of the project outcomes, and in relation to other known studies in the literature. Publications (including books and journal articles) will summarize, interpret, and synthesize the findings of the project as a whole, and will explicate and publicize the methodological and theoretical advances made. They will also identify lessons from this unique case of interethnic stability for showing us how to benefit from ethnic and cultural diversity, and ideally, to avoid some of the pitfalls.