The Austroasiatic language phylum

A typology of phonological restructuring

Authored by: Paul Sidwell

The Routledge Handbook of Historical Linguistics

Print publication date:  June  2014
Online publication date:  March  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415527897
eBook ISBN: 9781315794013
Adobe ISBN: 9781317743248


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The Austroasiatic (AA) phylum is the oldest recognisable language family in the mainland of South and Southeast Asia, with approximately 150 — mostly small — languages straddling a discontinuous geographical distribution from central India to the coast of Indo-China (see Figure 32.1). Austroasiatic also includes national languages Vietnamese and Khmer, the historically important Mon with a written tradition going back some 1,500 years, and in India Khasi, with perhaps half a million speakers, has official status in Meghalaya state. Spread over such a vast area for thousands of years, and subject to sustained external influences from numerous unrelated languages, remarkable typological diversity has understandably accrued from branch to branch. The diversity found within the phylum is so great that, as Donegan and Stampe (2004: 4) put it, “the Munda and Mon-Khmer 1 branches of Austroasiatic, rarely studied by typologists, provide a nearly exhaustive inventory of the extremes of difference in human language structures.”

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