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The Greater Burma Zone - a transitional zone of languages and peoples

English title The Greater Burma Zone - a transitional zone of languages and peoples
Applicant Jenny Mathias
Number 150136
Funding scheme Project funding (Div. I-III)
Research institution Seminar für Allgemeine Sprachwissenschaft Universität Zürich
Institution of higher education University of Zurich - ZH
Main discipline Other languages and literature
Start/End 01.03.2014 - 31.08.2018
Approved amount 626'053.00
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Keywords (7)

Linguistic typology; Languages and history; Areal linguistics; Languages of Burma (Myanmar); Southeast Asia; Language contact; South Asia

Lay Summary (German)

Lead
Burma (zusammen mit den umliegenden Gebieten; die „Greater Burma Zone“), das eine wichtige historisch-politische und linguistische Stellung zwischen Süd- und Südostasien einnimmt, wird von über hundert verschiedenen Völkern und ebenso vielen Sprachen besiedelt, mit jahrhundertelangem mehr oder weniger intensiven, friedlichen und kriegerischen Kontakt. Dieser tiefgehende Kontakt führte zur Verbreitung von linguistischen Merkmalen und Konvergenz der Sprachen.
Lay summary

Ziele des Forschungsprojekts

Die Sprachen Burmas sind bislang nur unzureichend beschrieben, die vorhandenen Informationen in älteren Publikationen versteckt und der Forschung schwer zugänglich. Zudem hat sich die Geschichtsschreibung meist auf die Staatsebene beschränkt, ohne die zahlreichen lokalen „Geschichten“ in Form von Legenden in Lokalsprachen zu berücksichtigen. Das Projekt wird die vorhandenen Daten in standardisierter Form einem weiteren Publikum zugänglich machen, und gezielt neues Material sammeln, um daraus die Geschichte der Völker und Sprachen Burmas zu synthetisieren. Die Erforschung der belegten und rekonstruierbaren Kontaktszenarien wird neue Erkenntnisse zu der sprachlichen und gesellschaftlichen Geschichte der Region bringen und auch unser Verständnis von Süd- und Südostasien als Konvergenzzonen erweitern.

Gesellschaftlicher und wissenschaftlicher Kontext

Die politische Öffnung Burmas seit 2011 bringt neue Perspektiven der Forschung, aber unausweichlich auch starke Veränderungen im gesellschaftlichen und sprachlichen Gefüge, weshalb die Durchführung dieses Projekts jetzt besonders wichtig ist.

 

Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 01.10.2013

Responsible applicant and co-applicants

Employees

Publications

Publication
Verb-initial structures in Austroasiatic languages
Jenny Mathias (2020), Verb-initial structures in Austroasiatic languages, in Jenny Mathias, Sidwell Paul, Alves Mark (ed.), Brill, Leiden, 21-45.
Foreign influence in the Burmese language
Jenny Mathias (2017), Foreign influence in the Burmese language, in Ampika Rattanapitak (ed.), Chiang Mai University Press, Chiang Mai, 1-34.
How Society Shapes Language: Personal Pronouns in the Greater Burma Zone.
Müller André (2017), How Society Shapes Language: Personal Pronouns in the Greater Burma Zone., in Asiatische Studien – Études Asiatiques , 71:1, 409-432.
Contextualizing language and ethnicity in the study of Burma
McCormick Patrick (2016), Contextualizing language and ethnicity in the study of Burma, in IIAS The Newsletter, 75, 29-31.
Habilitation: Typology and language contact in Southeast Asia
Jenny Mathias (2016), Habilitation: Typology and language contact in Southeast Asia, UZH, Zürich.
Linguistic convergence within the ‘Kachin’ languages
Müller André (2016), Linguistic convergence within the ‘Kachin’ languages, in IIAS The Newsletter, 75, 34-35.
Tai identity in Myanmar and beyond
Jenny Mathias (2016), Tai identity in Myanmar and beyond, in IIAS The Newsletter, 75, 32-33.
Ethnic histories, reflections from the field
McCormick Patrick (2014), Ethnic histories, reflections from the field, in Journal of Burma Studies , 18:1, 123-135.
Writing a singular past: Mon history and ‘modern’ historiography in Burma
McCormick Patrick (2014), Writing a singular past: Mon history and ‘modern’ historiography in Burma, in Sojourn: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia, 29:2, 330-331.
Language policy in Myanmar
McCormick Patrick, Language policy in Myanmar, in Kirkpatrick Andrew (ed.), Routledge, London/New York.

Collaboration

Group / person Country
Types of collaboration
University of Mandalay Myanmar (Asia)
- Research Infrastructure
Universität Zürich Switzerland (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
CRLAO/EHES France (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Research Infrastructure
Yangon University of Foreign Languages Myanmar (Asia)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Research Infrastructure
Chulalongkorn University Thailand (Asia)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
Chiang Mai University Thailand (Asia)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Publication
- Research Infrastructure
Mahidol University (RILCA) Thailand (Asia)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
ANU Australia (Oceania)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Publication
University of Mawlamyine Myanmar (Asia)
- Research Infrastructure
INALCO/CNRS France (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Publication

Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
13th International Burma Studies Conference Talk given at a conference What’s in a “word”? The hidden Burmanization of the Mon language 03.08.2018 Bangkok, Thailand Jenny Mathias;
Invited lecture at Mandalay University Individual talk Peripheral languages and language contact in Myanmar 03.08.2018 Mandalay, Myanmar Weymuth Rachel; Müller André; Boote Cooper Alys; McCormick Patrick; Özgür Selim; Jenny Mathias;
SEALS 28 Talk given at a conference Toward reconstruction of Austroasiatic syntax 17.05.2018 Kaohsiung, Taiwan Jenny Mathias;
Language, Power and Identity in Asia Talk given at a conference Hierarchy and Contact-Burmese Dialects 14.03.2018 Leiden, Netherlands McCormick Patrick;
Invited lecture at YUFL Individual talk Languages of the Greater Burma Zone 22.02.2018 Yangon, Myanmar Jenny Mathias;
2nd International conference on Burma/Myanmar studies Talk given at a conference Gorakha in Myanmar 16.02.2018 Mandalay, Myanmar Jenny Mathias; Boote Cooper Alys;
2nd International Conference on Myanmar/Burma Studies Talk given at a conference The Kachin Languages as Participants of a Linguistic Area 16.02.2018 Mandalay, Myanmar Müller André;
2nd International conference on Burma/Myanmar studies Talk given at a conference Pa-O between Shan and Burmese 16.02.2018 Mandalay, Myanmar Boote Cooper Alys;
2nd International Conference on Myanmar/Burma Studies Talk given at a conference Shan in the Greater Burma Zone (GBZ) 16.02.2018 Mandalay, Myanmar Jenny Mathias;
ALT Talk given at a conference Verb-initiality as an archaic Austroasiatic feature 12.12.2017 Canberra, Australia Jenny Mathias;
Language in Early Burma Talk given at a conference Burmese Dialect Studies: the Dialectics of History and Ethnic Emergence 10.10.2017 London, Great Britain and Northern Ireland McCormick Patrick;
ICAAL 7 Talk given at a conference Comparative constructions in Mon in typological, areal, and diachronic perspective 01.10.2017 Kiel, Germany Jenny Mathias;
ICAAL 7 Talk given at a conference Aspectual prefixes in Palaung Rumai 29.09.2017 Kiel, Germany Weymuth Rachel;
SLE 50 Talk given at a conference Pre- and Postverbal Auxiliaries in Jinghpaw 10.09.2017 Zurich, Switzerland Müller André;
Invited lecture at Mawlamyine University Individual talk Linguistic diversity and unity 27.08.2017 Mawlamyine, Myanmar Jenny Mathias;
Invited lecture at Mandalay University Individual talk Linguistic Fieldwork – Why? How? Where? 29.06.2017 Mandalay, Myanmar Jenny Mathias; Müller André;
Chulalongkorn International Student Symposium in Southeast Asian Linguistics Talk given at a conference The Kachin as a(n ethno-)linguistic area 08.06.2017 Bangkok, Thailand Müller André;
Chulalongkorn International Student Symposium in Southeast Asian Linguistics Talk given at a conference Secondary verbs in Pa-O 08.06.2017 Bangkok, Thailand Boote Cooper Alys;
Contact-driven Multilingual Practices Talk given at a conference Gorakha in Myanmar - shift and retention under intensive language contact 01.06.2017 Helsinki, Finland Boote Cooper Alys; Jenny Mathias;
linguist[ic]s PRAGUE Talk given at a conference Pre- and Postverbal Auxiliaries in Jinghpaw 27.04.2017 Prague, Czech Republic Müller André;
Linguist[ic]s Prague Talk given at a conference Aspectual prefixes in Palaung Rumai 26.04.2017 Prague, Czech Republic Weymuth Rachel;
Habilitations Antrittsvorlesung UZH Individual talk Sprachlandschaften Südostasiens - Einheit in der Vielfalt 03.04.2017 Zürich, Switzerland Jenny Mathias;
12th International Burma Studies Conference: Traditions and Challenges Talk given at a conference Rethinking the relationship between language and identity in Burma 06.10.2016 DeKalb, United States of America McCormick Patrick;
Austroasiatic syntax in areal and diachronic perspective Talk given at a conference Proto-Austroasiatic was verb-initial 05.09.2016 Chiang Mai, Thailand Jenny Mathias;
CHLing9 Talk given at a conference Differential Agent Marking in Jinghpaw 30.06.2016 Geneva, Switzerland Müller André;
CHLing9 Talk given at a conference Verb-initial word order in Austroasiatic 30.06.2016 Geneva, Switzerland Jenny Mathias;
Myanmartagung Talk given at a conference 5. Mehrsprachigkeit bei den Kachin: Wer spricht eigentlich was? 23.06.2016 Berlin, Germany Müller André;
Myanmartagung Talk given at a conference Die Palaung zwischen Anpassung und Eigenständigkeit 23.06.2016 Berlin, Germany Weymuth Rachel;
Myanmartagung Talk given at a conference Peripheral languages and language contact in Myanmar 23.06.2016 Berlin, Germany Jenny Mathias;
Invited lecture at CRLAO Individual talk Exploring language contact in Burma 17.06.2016 Paris, France Jenny Mathias;
SEALS 26 Talk given at a conference Verb-initial word order in Austroasiatic 26.05.2016 Manila, Philippines Jenny Mathias;
SEALS 26 Talk given at a conference Mainland Southeast Asia as a linguistic area: a view from the western mainland 26.05.2016 Manila, Philippines McCormick Patrick;
Invited guest lecture Individual talk Research in the new Myanmar 06.04.2016 Seattle, United States of America McCormick Patrick;
Invired guest lecture Individual talk Untying ethnic pasts from the nation: writing new histories for the Mon of Burma 05.04.2016 Seattle, United States of America McCormick Patrick;
Association for Asian Studies Annual Conference Talk given at a conference Beyond the trans-national: rethinking Mon pasts through networks 28.03.2016 Seattle, United States of America McCormick Patrick;
Invited lecture at the University of Kiel Individual talk Word order in Austroasiatic - what about verb-initial? 28.03.2016 Kiel, Germany Jenny Mathias;
Language, Power and Identity in Asia: Creating and Crossing Language Boundaries Talk given at a conference Tai language and identity within and across national boundaries 14.03.2016 Leiden, Netherlands Jenny Mathias;
First International Conference on Language Policy in Multicultural and Multilingual Settings Talk given at a conference Language Choice in Higher Education in Myanmar: Thinking Beyond English-Only Policies 08.02.2016 Mandalay, Myanmar McCormick Patrick;
Critical Hurdles to Myanmar's Opening Up Process Talk given at a conference Ethnic education systems in Burma: possibilities for harmonization and integration 05.02.2016 Kyoto, Japan McCormick Patrick;
Vivre Ensemble en Transition Talk given at a conference The use of English in Burma 28.11.2015 Yangon, Myanmar McCormick Patrick;
Invited guest lecture Individual talk A Mon past for a modern nation: writing a minority history into and out of Burma 10.09.2015 Oxford, Great Britain and Northern Ireland McCormick Patrick;
Eight EuroSEAS conference Talk given at a conference Ethnicities and languages in Burma: a history of conceptual slippages 11.08.2015 Vienna, Austria McCormick Patrick;
ICAAL 6 Talk given at a conference Syntactic diversity in Austroasiatic languages - where does it come from? 29.07.2015 Siem Reap, Campuchea Jenny Mathias;
International Conference on Burma/Myanmar Studies Talk given at a conference Foreign influence in Burmese 26.07.2015 Chiang Mai, Thailand Jenny Mathias;
International Conference on Burma/Myanmar Studies Talk given at a conference Building Myanmar’s knowledge sector: challenges and opportunities 24.07.2015 Chiang Mai, Thailand McCormick Patrick;
Tagung für Myanmarforschung Talk given at a conference Sprache und Gesellschaft in Myanmar: Pronominalsysteme 23.07.2015 Zurich, Switzerland Weymuth Rachel; Müller André;
Invited lecture at CRLAO Individual talk NewSit - an aspectual category in Southeast Asia 24.06.2015 Paris, France Jenny Mathias;
Invited lecture at CRLAO Individual talk 'Give' and 'get' in the languages of Southeast Asia 10.06.2015 Paris, France Jenny Mathias;
Invited lecture at CRLAO Individual talk Multi-verb predicates in Southeast Asian languages 03.06.2015 Paris, France Jenny Mathias;
SEALS 25 Talk given at a conference Tonal minor syllables in Jinghpaw? A phonetic approach 27.05.2015 Chiang Mai, Thailand Müller André;
SEALS 25 Talk given at a conference Incorporation as an emergent syntactic phenomenon in Burmese 27.05.2015 Chiang Mai, Thailand Jenny Mathias;
Association for Asian Studies Annual Conference Talk given at a conference Sounds and syntax as sources: Burmese dialects and the study of Burmese history 26.03.2015 Chicago, United States of America McCormick Patrick;
Seminar on the Continuum of Languages and Dialects in Myanmar Talk given at a conference 2000 years of history - the Mon language in Thailand and Myanmar 25.03.2015 Yangon, Myanmar Jenny Mathias;
Invited guest lecture at Chulalongkorn University Individual talk Structural divergence in Burmese varieties 30.01.2015 Bangkok, Thailand Jenny Mathias;
Theravada Civilizations Conference Individual talk Between British big ideas and Buddhism: situating the writing of Mon history 14.12.2014 Chiang Mai, Thailand McCormick Patrick;
Linguistisches Forschungskolloquium UZH Individual talk Exploring language contact in Burma 06.11.2014 Zürich, Switzerland Müller André; Jenny Mathias; McCormick Patrick;
Workshop on Grammatical Hybridization and Social Conditions Talk given at a conference Tracing pattern of contact and movement in the Greater Burma Zone 16.10.2014 Leipzig, Germany McCormick Patrick; Müller André; Jenny Mathias;
Doktorandenkolloquium IVS/UZH Individual talk Language Contact in Northern Burma 18.09.2014 Zurich, Switzerland Müller André;
International Burma Studies Conference Talk given at a conference Mon in the center of their own histories: taking history out of the nation-state 01.08.2014 Singapore, Singapore McCormick Patrick;
LSCAC 3 Talk given at a conference Language diversity and endangerment in Asia - the case of Thailand and Myanmar 10.07.2014 Mahasarakham, Thailand Jenny Mathias;
8th Days of Swiss Linguistics Talk given at a conference Convergence and divergence in the languages of the Greater Burma Zone - the case of Mon 19.06.2014 Zürich, Switzerland McCormick Patrick; Jenny Mathias;
Language, Power and Identity in Asia: Creating and Crossing Language Boundaries Talk given at a conference Constructing and deconstructing Kachin and Palaung linguistic identity 14.03.2014 Leiden, Netherlands Müller André; Weymuth Rachel;


Self-organised

Title Date Place
Austroasiatic syntax in areal and diachronic perspective 05.09.2016 Chiang Mai, Thailand

Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
176264 The Development of Verb-Initial Structures Cross-linguistically: Insights from Austroasiatic 01.02.2018 Project funding (Div. I-III)
160739 Linguistic morphology in time and space (LiMiTS) 01.02.2016 Sinergia

Abstract

This project is a cross-disciplinary study of what I call the ‘Greater Burma Zone’, combining linguistics with anthropological and historical studies. The Greater Burma Zone forms something of a loose transitional area between the South and Southeast Asian linguistic areas, as historically-situated linguistic evidence suggests. Present day Burma (Myanmar) consists of an extensive plain stretching along the Chindwin and Irrawaddy rivers in the north to the Irrawaddy delta and Salween plain in the south and southeast. This lowland area is surrounded by mountains on three sides and the Bay of Bengal in the south. The area has been home to different peoples, states and kingdoms, mostly unstable and with shifting boundaries, since at least the early centuries AD. Political power in general spread much faster and more thoroughly in the plains than in the less accessible retreat zones in mountainous and densely forested regions, a phenomenon that recently received some attention in anthropological and historical studies. From what we know in other parts of the world this dichotomy is expected also to leave signals also in linguistic structures, signals that may be be leveled or disappear in the course of increasing communication and transport facilities between the areas. Over 100 languages belonging to six different language families (Sino-Tibetan, Austroasiatic, Tai-Kadai, as well as smaller communities of Hmong-Mien, Indo-European, and Austronesian) are spoken in the area. In a few of these there are written documents going back over a thousand years, while in most cases only recent, if any, material is available. Initial investigations have shown that the languages of the zone can be read as ‘palimpsests’: for example, many of the varieties of Tai languages, while reflecting their eastern Mainland Southeast Asian origins, have come to take on more firmly Greater Burma features as speakers have moved west. Khamti (Tai) has a ‘genetic’ typological profile written further east, over which has been written a set of features acquired through contact over many centuries with surrounding languages in north and northeast Burma. Karenic languages (Tibeto-Burman), on the other hand, have restructured their syntax to the more typical Southeast Asian verb-medial type, but still retain a number of features usually associated with the verb-final Tibeto-Burman languages.This project takes a fundamentally diachronic approach to the investigation of the language convergence, determining the social and political processes over the centuries that have brought speakers of languages into and across the region, and at other times have forced them out, leading to the present distribution of languages and linguistic features. This project will investigate a representative selection of languages of the Greater Burma Zone to establish an areal typological profile, looking at the distribution of features covering all linguistic domains, from phonetics-phonology to pragmatics and the lexicon. Burmese as the national language naturally occupies an important position in the linguistic landscape of the area, which is marked by wide-spread bi- and multi-lingualism, in most cases asymmetrical, leading to different contact situations. The extent and kind of these influences in small-scale contact scenarios can give important insight in establishing the linguistic landscape of the Greater Burma Zone. The results also feed back into anthropological and historical studies of the area, a field of research becoming ever more important, and only now possible, with the recent political - and ensuing social and cultural - changes in Burma. The basic questions to be answered are ‘what linguistic features are found where in the area, and why are they found where they are’. To achieve this goal, the project will make use of different sources, including published language material such as grammatical descriptions, texts, and inscriptions, which will be complemented by original material to be collected in punctual fieldwork. The analysis will be done by application of methodological tools from general linguistics, especially areal and contact linguistics and linguistic typology, and history, combining the two fields to achieve viable results.
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