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Special Seminar on Austronesian research by Prof. Adelaar

2015/06/10 @ 10:00 AM - 12:00 PM

Title: Austronesian culture history
Speakers: Professor Alexander Adelaar, Tokyo University of Foreign Studies (visiting professor)

Date: June 10 (Wed.), 2015, 10:00 – 12:00
Place: Inamori Building, 3rd floor, middle-seminar room, CSEAS, Kyoto University


The last 25 years have seen a happy collaboration between linguists and archaeologists in the field of
Austronesian studies. Originally a historical linguistic notion, “Austronesian” has gradually been
applied to various other research areas, including archaeology, anthropology, navigation and boat
technology. The major proponents of the development of a distinct Austronesian cultural history have
been the historical linguist Robert Blust and the archaeologist Peter Bellwood. Blust’s main
contributions are the reconstruction of a large corpus of etyma at the level of Proto Austronesian and
lower cladistic nodes within Austronesian, a refinement of earlier genetic classifications of
Austronesian languages, and the reconstruction of Proto Austronesian and Proto Malayo-Polynesian
taxonomies, which include among other things, pronouns, kinship terms and taboo vocabulary.
Bellwood applied to the early history of the Austronesian-speaking peoples a model first developed by
Colin Renfrew for Indo-European archaeology. It emphasizes the role of agriculture in the expansion
of ethnic groups and their languages. In the Austronesian context, the model depends heavily on the
spread of rice-based agriculture. Bellwood also explains the Austronesian expansion as driven by
what he refers to as a “founder rank enhancement process” (i.e. the circumstance that earlier founders
tended to be more revered in Austronesian societies which in turn stimulated certain people to look
for new territories and establish their own founder group). Both scholars have written
comprehensive overviews of their respective research areas. In the last six years the Blust-Bellwood
interpretation of Austronesian cultural history has come under criticism. Most notable is a paper by
Mark Donohue and Tim Denham (Current Anthropology, 2010) systematically testing whether and
how the perceived Austronesian cultural complex is manifested in language spread and classification,
agricultural developments, the spread of useful plants, maritime history, human genetics, and so on.
The paper has admittedly provoked criticism from several quarters but it also has the merit of
opening an important discussion and showing that the concept of an Austronesian complex is not
entirely free of problems. The rapid development of human genetics and new methods and proposals
for the classification of Austronesian languages (at various cladistics levels) raises other factors which
have the potential to change our understanding of Austronesian cultural history.

About the speaker:
Alexander Adelaar is a Visiting Professor at Tokyo University of Foreign Studies
and a Principal Fellow in the Asia Institute at the University of Melbourne. His research is on the structure
and history of Austronesian languages, with emphasis on varieties of Malay and the languages of Borneo,
Madagascar and Taiwan. He is currently involved in a study of the linguistic and migration history of
Madagascar with a grant from the Australian Research Council.

Moderator: Nathan Badenoch and Noa Nishimoto


10:00 AM - 12:00 PM
Event Category: