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(P14) Hunter-gatherers: a linguistic perspective on history in mainland Southeast Asia (CLOSED) 

Convenor: Nathan Badenoch, Kyoto University 

Discussant: Badenoch will chair/facilitate the session. 

Abstract: This dialogue brings together Gérard Diffloth and Jim Chamberlain, two of mainland Southeast Asia’s foremost experts on linguistic history. They will present their thinking on the prehistory of hunter-gatherers speaking Austroasiatic languages. The session hopes to engage in a discussion with scholars from other regions and disciplines. 

Keywords: historical linguistics, prehistory, ethnozoology, Austroasiatic 

Format: dialogue with general discussion 

Pre-circulated papers: yes 


This dialogue brings together Gérard Diffloth and Jim Chamberlain, two of mainland Southeast Asia’s foremost experts on linguistic history. Both have dedicated decades of time and energy to collecting and analysing linguistic data that can help elucidate the prehistory of people speaking Austroasiatic languages. These groups, many of them past and/or present hunter-gatherers living remarkably flexible and fluid lifestyles, moving between farming and foraging, have maintained deep knowledge of flora and fauna. Through comparison of linguistic data from languages spoken today, they use historical and comparative linguistics methods to reconstruct parts of the knowledge, distribution and material lives of these people. The twin talks will present not only insights from their research, but also highlight important methodological and theoretical questions of interface with other disciplines, such as anthropology, archaeology and genetics. It is hoped that the general discussion that follows will catalyse exchange across disciplines and geographical regions on hunter-gatherer histories, among other relevant topics. 

Diffloth will provide the broad background of his work on the Austroasiatic languages, introducing the distribution and history of key Proto-Austroasiatic etyma of interest to hunter-gatherer history. He discusses several issues of interest specific to Aslian hunter-gather peoples in Malaysia, showing that the current housing style of several North-Aslian-speaking groups in not their unique retention, but that their relations with the forest fauna are not confrontational either. Jim Chamberlain demonstrates how careful study of zoological lexicons of Vietic hunter-gatherers in the northern Annamites reveals not only important clues to the prehistory of this branch of Austroasiatic and linguistic subgrouping, but says much about (1) the place of Vietnam in Southeast Asia, and (2) what kind of faunal environment can be reconstructed for the Proto-Vietic people.



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