This dissertation research investigates the grammar of complex sentences (sentences which contain a dependent clause as well as a main clause) in Sundanese, a language spoken by the second largest ethnic group in Indonesia. The primary goals are to describe various Sundanese sentences containing clausal complements (the dependent clause) and to compare their structure with that of other languages of the world in order to test various hypotheses of contemporary linguistic theory.

Indigenous to western Java, Sundanese is spoken by approximately 34 million speakers, making it the third most widely spoken language in Indonesia (following Indonesian and Javanese). Despite the large number of speakers, Sundanese has received surprisingly little attention in the Western linguistics literature even though there is a fairly robust literature of closely related languages. Furthermore, what literature there is does not address the sentence-types to be examined here in any systematic or comprehensive way. Thus, this study will fill a sizable gap in our knowledge of the language and will provide a repository of data that will contribute to current and future linguistic debates.

Since no exhaustive descriptions of these structures currently exist, compilation of primary linguistic data is a crucial component of the project. Bandung, Indonesia will serve as the principal location for data collection, which will be conducted by the native-speaker co-PI. Several methods will be used to gather the necessary data: direct elicitation (face-to-face sessions with native speakers getting acceptability judgments), recorded conversations and oral narratives, written texts, and existing accounts of the language. The resulting corpus of sentences and recordings will constitute a repository of data available to other researchers and interested members of the public.

Project Report

The primary outcome of the project was the description of the structure of complex sentences in Sundanese, with 33 million speakers the third largest language in Indonesia. (Complex sentences are sentences that contain more than one clause, such as the English Hasan thinks that Asih bought a new car. Despite the large number of speakers, little scholarly work exists in the Western linguistics literature. Therefore, the work fills a significant gap in grammatical description. The work shows that even though Sundanese is grammatically quite distinct from not only European languages but many others in the world (in terms of properties such as subject-verb agreement, marking of tense, and many others), the language nonetheless contains most of the same complex sentence structures as those found in English and other well-studied languages. This is a significant outcome for those engaged in grammatical study and may aid in our understanding of other languages of Indonesia, a country of increasing geopolitical significance to the US. The fact that these similarities are found in such diverse languages is also of importance to scholars who develop linguistic theories as understanding the ways in which languages are alike and the ways in which they can differ must figure into a comprehensive description of the organizing principles of human language. The results are contained in the University of Iowa PhD dissertation, Sundanese Complementation, which is available, along with a database of files containing the data collected, at .

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University of Iowa
Iowa City
United States
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