Logo: MPI Workshop "Mainland Southeast Asian Languages: The State of the Art in 2012"

Workshop "Mainland Southeast Asian Languages: The State of the Art in 2012"

Date: 29 November - 1 December 2012

Place: Seminar room H4.10 (4th floor), Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig (Germany)

Organised by:

  • Bernard Comrie (MPI EVA)
  • Nick Enfield (MPI Nijmegen)

Local organizer:

  • Claudia Schmidt (MPI EVA)


Mainland Southeast Asian Languages: The State of the Art in 2012

The purpose of this workshop is to take stock of what has been discovered in the last decade or so about language diversity and linguistic typology in the mainland Southeast Asia area. Should we revise our views of the linguistics of the area? If so, how? It has long been known that Mainland Southeast Asia (MSEA) – with Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand at its centre, extending out into China, Myanmar, and Peninsular Malaysia – is a locus of an especially high degree of human diversity in world terms. This means diversity in all measures of distinction among human groups, including social structure, material culture, and genetic markers (cf. Enfield ed. Dynamics of Human Diversity: The Case of Mainland Southeast Asia, Pacific Linguistics 2011). The diversity of languages, however, has been regarded as relatively low (Comrie, ‘Areal Typology of Mainland Southeast Asia: What We Learn from the WALS Maps,’ Manusya 2007). In this meeting, we concentrate on typological diversity in language.

Guiding questions of the workshop:

  • Does recent empirical work in MSEA linguistics (in the last 10 years) require us to change our views on the typology of the area? What can we now say about the types of grammatical system that are (not) found in MSEA?
  • There have been new theoretical and methodological advances in descriptive, typological, areal and historical linguistics in the last 10 years: do these require us to change our established views on the typology of the area?
  • How diverse are the languages of MSEA? What is the nature of the diversity?
  • Is there such a thing as a ‘typical’ MSEA language? What is it like?
  • To what degree can the interpretation of the facts of MSEA languages vary, in turn affecting our view of the area’s typology? For example, are MSEA phoneme inventories unusually large, or can/should they be described more parsimoniously?
  • It is known that certain biases are introduced by scholars’ backgrounds in discipline, geographical area, language family, and political affiliations: How significantly do these biases affect the formulation of questions about language type and areal patterns, and the interpretation of facts?
  • What is the historical background to the above, i.e. what historical processes have led to linguistic convergence and diversification in MSEA? To what extent have languages with a longer presence in the area influenced languages entering subsequently? To what extent have the latter influenced the former?

The workshop will consist of presentations (30 minutes each) that address these questions with reference to examples from recent empirical work and analysis of MSEA languages. The schedule will reserve ample time for group discussion.


Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Deutscher Platz 6
D-04103 Leipzig