The Western Micronesian Sprachbund

Anthony P. Grant*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

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Introduction Thomason (2000) has written about the difficulties involved in proving that constellations of shared features, which are found among a number of languages spoken in the same region, means that the languages in question constitute a linguistic area. Such heuristic problems will be discussed here in regard to the potential sprachbund status of Western Micronesia in the northwest Pacific, an area which has been characterized by extensive and intensive networks of language contact. The languages involved here are Trukic or Chuukic, especially western Trukic varieties, Yapese of the island of Yap, now part of the Federated States of Micronesia, Palauan of Palau (now the Republic of Belau), and – peripherally – Chamorro of the Marianas. Mapian, a Trukic variety, was spoken a little north of Irian Jaya (see Map 30.1 for locations in Micronesia). Like Sonsorolese-Tobian and Pulo Annian, it was spoken considerably to the west even of Palauan and Yapese, so that the spread of Trukic languages is the greatest of that of all the languages discussed in this chapter. The westernmost and easternmost languages of Western Micronesia that are discussed here, Chuukese and Sonsorolese, are both Trukic. Among the Trukic languages, Sonsorolese-Tobian, the westernmost one which is spoken several hundred kilometres away from the epicentre of Trukic languages, is especially archaic at the phonological level, such that Sonsorolese phonological forms are closer to the phonological shapes of cognate stems in other Nuclear Micronesian languages than other Trukic forms are. Like Woleaian (though more comprehensively) it preserves on stems the word-final voiceless vowels which manifest themselves only in inflected forms in other Trukic languages. Either Sonsorolese-Tobian is phonologically conservative because it has moved little from the first point of settlement of speakers of Trukic languages, or because, surrounded by speakers of Palauan (and Yapese), it has remained isolated from waves of phonological change which have spread throughout the rest of the Trukic continuum. All of these languages belong to the Malayo-Polynesian branch of Austronesian, so they are ultimately related to one another, though at considerable time depths. Most of them are Oceanic: Trukic participates in Nuclear Micronesian, Yapese is possibly part of the Admiralties group of languages, originally from northeastern Papua New Guinea, and which constitute a primordial division of Oceanic; indeed Ross (1996) suggests that these languages were probably the first languages to break away from the rest of Oceanic.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Handbook of Areal Linguistics
EditorsRaymond Hickey
Place of PublicationCambridge
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages26
ISBN (Electronic)9781107279872
ISBN (Print)9781107051614
Publication statusPublished - 31 May 2017


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