Berawan-Lower Baram Language Group: A Study on Linguistic Affiliation and Language Survival

Author:Norazuna Norahim (University Malaysia Sarawak , Malaysia )
Speaker:Norazuna Norahim
Topic: Language Contact and Change
The GLOCAL CALA 2022 General Session


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It is not possible to determine the exact number of indigenous languages of Sarawak, one reason being, the dialect-language dichotomy for some isolects have not been ascertained. Ethnic labels given to the indigenous may not reflect a linguistically homogenous group. That is to say the varieties spoken by an ethnic group may have dialectal relationship to one another, or may be heterogeneous to the point of being mutually unintelligible with one another. The relationships mirror sisters or cousins within a family of languages. This paper reports on the results of a lexicostatistic study that examines linguistic affiliation of a group of languages found along Tinjar-Baram river basin namely Berawan, Bakong, Narom, Kiput, Dali’, Miriek, Tutong, Belait and Lementing. Blust (1974) and Hudson (1978) are among researchers who have worked on the group. The paper also traces its historical past and describes how these ethonolinguistic groups have come to be affiliated to each other. For some reason or another, e.g. migration in search of greener pastures, internal rivalry or conversion to modern religions, indigenous communities are forced to move away from their original speech communities, and they call themselves by a different name in their new locality, usually after the name of a river or a mountain. This factor has equally contributed to the misinterpretation on the identity of the indigenous groups in the past. This paper also discusses the current state of language vitality of the said languages. In its simplest definition, language survival is the ability of a particular language to sustain itself in the face of social development that affects its speakers (Asmah & Norazuna, 2019). The survival of these languages is assessed by employing UNESCO’s Language Endangerment Criteria (2003) and in relation to the changing language ecology of the territory.

Keywords: Berawan, Baram-Tinjar Languages, Language Endangerment