The aim of this dissertation project is to describe, document and compare critical aspects of the grammar of two under-described Malay languages spoken in the western part of Jambi Province in Sumatra, Indonesia: Sungai Penuh Kerinci Malay and Sarolangun Malay. A disproportionate amount of scholarly work on Malay languages has focused on Standard Malay-Indonesian, a variety that was in large part invented by scholars to serve as the common national language of Indonesia. The centrality of the standard language in linguistic research has brought about an unbalanced and inaccurate picture of the Malay language group. To obtain a genuine and more sophisticated understanding of these remarkably diverse languages, and to expand our knowledge of how human language can be structured in general, it is crucial that linguists make a serious commitment to the documentation and examination of local Malay varieties. The need to undertake linguistic fieldwork of this type is pressing, as the popularization of the standard language and the Jakarta dialect in rural regions is likely to mean the extinction of traditional Malay languages in the near future.

The Jambi Province of Sumatra is the logical starting point for an in depth examination of traditional varieties of Malay: Sumatra is home to the majority of the world's native speakers of Malay, while the Jambi region itself is believed to be the historical homeland from which Malay spread throughout South-East Asia. Though Jambi is the ideal location to retrace the development of Malay, the varieties spoken in this region have received very little attention. There are perhaps several hundred local Malay dialects spoken in the Jambi region, yet, very few have received any attention, let alone a thorough grammatical description. The languages investigated in this project, Sungai Penuh Kerinci Malay and Sarolangun Malay, exemplify the uniqueness and grammatical heterogeneity of Sumatran Malay. These languages exhibit patterns of alternation in word pronunciation and meaning, which are altogether unattested in other varieties of Malay and are unique from a broader linguistic perspective. The study of these grammatical patterns will not only shed light on the linguistic history of Malay languages, they will also contribute to our overall knowledge of how human language works. In addition to focusing on the grammatical properties of these languages, this project will result in the collection of culturally significant texts (stories, jokes, songs, dialogues, etc.) that will serve as a valuable resource not only to linguists and to scholars in fields outside of linguistics, but also to the people of Sungai Penuh and Sarolangun, to whom all results of this study will be made freely available.

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University of Delaware
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