A grammar of Jahai

University dissertation from Linguistics and Phonetics

Abstract: Jahai, a language belonging to the Aslian branch of the Mon-Khmer language family, is spoken by a group of about 1,000 hunter-gatherers in the montane rainforests of northern Peninsular Malaysia. Drawing on linguistic data collected in the field, the present dissertation is a study of the grammar of Jahai. The work begins with an introduction to Jahai and its speakers, and subsequent chapters chart the fields of phonology, word formation, nominal word classes, verbal word classes, syntax and a phenomenon referred to here as expressive elaboration. It also includes a word-list. Although largely descriptive in character, the study makes use of suitable theoretical models for the analysis of linguistic features. Typological comparisons are made at times, primarily with other Aslian languages. The phonological section comprises an analysis of phonemes, phonotactic properties, prosody and the phonological behaviour of loanwords. Features of special interest include phonemic vowel nasality and peculiar realisations of word-final nasal consonants. Particular emphasis is placed on the morphological system, which involves intricate and diverse processes of affixation, cliticisation and reduplication. Such processes are analysed within the framework of Prosodic and Template Morphology. A fundamental distinction is made between 'inner' and 'outer' affixation. Verbal morphology is particularly complex, involving a range of derivational categories related to e.g. aspect, Aktionsart and nominalisation. Nominal morphology includes a typologically unusual derivational category of unitisation connected to quantification. The section on syntax analyses tentatively the structure of phrases and clauses and addresses problems of agreement and argument structure. The marginal phenomenon of expressive elaboration deviates in several respects from the ordinary linguistic system and therefore receives separate treatment. In several respects, Jahai conforms to the patterns described for most other languages of the Aslian branch of Mon-Khmer. It also exhibits features hitherto undocumented elsewhere among its relatives. A pervasive feature of the Jahai linguistic system is its readiness to incorporate foreign elements, notably from Malay, the Austronesian majority language of the Malay Peninsula.

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