Topics in Oceanic Linguistics

Instructor(s): Alex François

A subset within the vast Austronesian family, the Oceanic subgroup consists of about 500 languages, scattered across the Pacific. This course will propose an introduction to the major typological features of Oceanic languages, whether they are shared throughout the subgroup, or specific to regional areas. Special attention will be paid to empirical data collected in several languages - many of them endangered - of Vanuatu and Solomon Is, in Island Melanesia. The presentation of widespread linguistic structures will be combined with hands-on, in-class analysis of specific problems as they emerge during fieldwork.

The course will begin with a geographical and historical presentation of Oceanic languages, with an overview of their anthropological and sociological backgrounds. Specific topics will include the discussion of phonological systems; the morphosyntax of number and reference; the grammar of possessive classifiers; tense-aspect-mood inflection and syntactic categories; deixis and geocentric space systems. Mention will be made of other topics related to linguistic studies in the Oceanic area, such as multilingualism and contact phenomena, language endangerment and the promotion of literacy.

This course will be useful to students intending to carry out the firsthand description of a previously undocumented language, whether in the Pacific or elsewhere. More generally, it may be of interest to linguists wanting to explore the typological profile of an important linguistic family.

Students should be familiarised with major linguistic concepts and typological debates in phonology, morphosyntax, semantics, pragmatics, language change. No prior knowledge of Oceanic or Austronesian languages is required.