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Review of  The Genesis of Sri Lanka Malay

Reviewer: Felicity Meakins
Book Title: The Genesis of Sri Lanka Malay
Book Author: Sebastian Nordhoff
Publisher: Brill
Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics
Subject Language(s): Creole Malay, Sri Lankan
Language Family(ies): Austronesian
Issue Number: 25.939

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Studies of contact languages have often suffered from a dearth of data. In many cases by the time the value of a contact language has been recognised, it has had few speakers remaining with scanty information available about its socio-historical origins. In the past 10 years, a number of documentation projects focussed on actively-spoken contact languages have begun providing a more solid foundation for the discussion of these varieties and their origins. For example, Sri Lankan Malay, Gurindji Kriol and Angloromani have now been sampled across various social domains and have been situated within their respective socio-historical contexts. Other projects have targeted specific communicative contexts, such as the work on Light Warlpiri and its acquisition. As a result, detailed morpho-syntactic studies, ethnographic descriptions of the language ecologies and information about the socio-historical origins of these languages have become available. These projects provide the field of contact linguistics with better data for the discussion of these mixed varieties. The volume under review utilises data from recent Sri Lankan Malay documentation projects (for example, the Sri Lankan Malay DoBeS project: to address many of the debates surrounding the development of this very interesting contact language.

Sebastian Nordhoff in the 'Introduction' begins with a socio-historical overview of immigration of Trade Malay (also called Bazaar or Vehicular Malay) speakers from Java, Bali and other places to Sri Lanka and their subsequent contact with speakers of Tamil and Sinhala. He then situates Sri Lanka Malay within the field of creolistics by comparing Sri Lanka Malay with commonly-identified creole structures. Nordhoff observes that the genesis of Sri Lanka Malay occurred through a process of complexification (rather than simplification which is often claimed for creole languages). For example, it has developed inflectional morphology such as case morphology and TMA affixes. Sri Lanka Malay has also retained its lexicon but has modified its grammar on the basis of Tamil and Sinhala, the opposite of the process of relexification observed for creole languages. This comparison with creoles provides a good point of reference for Sri Lanka Malay, however a more broad-reaching comparison would have been welcome. Some of the features Nordhoff discusses are found in other contact varieties. For example, Ross refers to the retention of lexical material accompanied by a typological restructuring as metatypy (and indeed Bakker (2003: 118-120) and Ansaldo (2008, 2011) describe the development of Sri Lanka Malay as a process of metatypy or convergence). Similarly, mixed languages are other contact varieties which do not result from simplification and Sri Lanka Malay has been included in discussions of mixed languages (see Meakins, 2013: 177-78 for a recent discussion). Indeed Nordhoff does provide a more comprehensive comparison of Sri Lanka Malay with contact processes other than creolisation in the final chapter and it is puzzling that he does not refer to this chapter or summarise his conclusions in the introduction.

In 'Synchronic Grammar of Sri Lanka Malay', Nordhoff provides a sketch of Sri Lanka Malay grammar, which is a reduced version of his two volume Grammar of Upcountry Sri Lanka Malay (2009). The sketch gives a backdrop for the remainder of the volume which focusses on diachronic development. (For another sketch of Sri Lanka Malay see Slomanson (2013)). Nordhoff begins with an overview of the phonology, highlighting some of its more interesting features such as the presence of retroflex stops, which are not found in Malay/Indonesian varieties but are found in Tamil and Sinhala. This is remarkable given that the majority of the vocabulary is of Austronesian origin. Such curious contact outcomes in phonology will undoubtedly be paid more attention in future studies of contact languages (see already work on phonological stratification in Michif (Rosen, 2000), Gurindji Kriol (Jones, Meakins, & Muawiyath, 2012) and Media Lengua (Steward, 2011)). Nordhoff paints a similar picture of Sri Lanka Malay word classes where distinctions reflect that of Tamil and Sinhala, despite the Malay source of the vocabulary. The rest of Nordhoff's sketch remains steadfastly synchronic, occasionally leaving the reader ignorant of Malay/Indonesian, Tamil and Sinhala wondering about the sources of word order, person and number distinctions in pronouns, TMA categories in verbs and deixis distinctions in demonstratives. Nonetheless many questions, for example about the origins of the case enclitics have been answered in previous research (which could have been better referenced in places) and other chapters in the volume (which could have been cross-referenced more). As such this chapter remains a very useful starting point for the other chapters, and indeed other papers on this language.

Peter Bakker begins the Sociology, History and Demography section with 'Sri Lanka Malay: New Findings on Contacts'. Bakker goes to the heart of the two major controversies in the Sri Lanka Malay literature: (i) what are the respective contributions of Tamil and Sinhala to Sri Lanka Malay, and (ii) is Sri Lanka Malay a creole language? In order to address the first question, Bakker presents evidence from a study on the molecular genetics of Sri Lanka populations previously uncited in the linguistic literature (Papiha, Mastana, & Jayasekara, 1996). This study suggests that there has been little intermarriage between the Malay and Tamil-speaking Moor populations in Sri Lanka with the Malay group remaining close to their pre-Sri Lanka genetic profile. Thus, as Bakker observes, the contact between Malay and Tamil must have been mediated through different social relations. He then goes on to examine primary source material and secondary historical sources to establish that Malays had more contact with Tamils and Tamil-speaking Moors, than with Sinhala speakers until the early 20th century due to trade and religious allegiances. These conclusions based on historical work are then tested against linguistic data based on Nordhoff (2009). Bakker comes to similar conclusions, suggesting the linguistic evidence points to an early Tamil influence on the development of Sri Lanka Malay with later influences coming from Sinhala. Finally Bakker addresses the question of whether Sri Lanka Malay is a creole language or not, a debate which has a long history in discussions of this language (see in particular Ansaldo, 2008, 2011; Smith & Paauw, 2006; Smith et al., 2004). Using phylogenetic methods, he compares 97 structural features of Sri Lanka Malay, 8 non-creole languages, 18 identified creole languages (which pattern as a separate typological group in other studies). Sri Lanka Malay clusters with the non-creole languages, demonstrating convincingly that this language is typologically dissimilar to creoles. Bakker concludes by once again pointing to the metatypy and Sprachbund literature for a story of the origins of Sri Lanka Malay. This small study embedded in this chapter is another very interesting contribution to the growing field of comparative creolistics which utilises biological methods (e.g. Bakker et al., 2011).

Peter Slomanson in 'Known, Inferable and Discoverable in Sri Lanka Malay Research' continues exploring the issue of the nature of the socio-historical setting which led to the formation of Sri Lanka Malay. As with Bakker, Slomanson first deals with the question of the relative influence of Tamil and Sinhala on the early development of the language. He notes that Ansaldo (2008) claims there is Tamil bias in the early literature on Sri Lanka Malay, arguing that there was little intermarriage between Tamil-speaking Moors and Malays (supported by Bakker's discussion of Papiha et al. (1996) in the previous chapter). Slomanson presents the case for intermarriage by re-presenting the Smith, Paauw and Hussainmiya (2004) position that the language is the result of the children of mixed marriages learning an L2 variety of Malay from their Moor Tamil-speaking mothers. While this scenario makes some sense with respect to the resultant shape of Sri Lanka Malay, definitive evidence for extensive intermarriage is lacking in the historical records (Slomanson himself struggles to find it despite his criticism of Ansaldo (2008)) and the genetic data (as demonstrated by Bakker in the previous chapter). Slomanson continues to argue against Ansaldo (2008)'s claim for less Tamil and more Sinhala influence by suggesting that an examination of residential patterns and religion do not support this scenario but rather greater contact with Tamil-speaking populations. Slomanson relies heavily on 'personal communication' with historians for these arguments but nonetheless comes to the same conclusion as Bakker -- Tamil, as spoken by the Moor population, was the main early influence on Sri Lanka Malay. The paper then concludes with an treatise on research that should be undertaken on Sri Lanka Malay, including on the current sociolinguistic situation, the topic of the following chapter.

Romola Rassool's paper 'Issues of Power and Privilege in the Maintenance of Sri Lanka Malay' leaves behind the issue of the socio-historical origins of Sri Lanka Malay and considers the contemporary situation of this language which is now highly endangered in some Malay communities. Rassool notes that the 1956 Official Language Act, which privileges Sinhala over English, Malay and Tamil (although it is named as an official language), has indirectly contributed to the demise of Malay in Sri Lanka. As a result of this Act, English is no longer taught in schools and many Malay parents have shifted to English rather than Malay as a home language because they want their children to learn English. Rassool also observes that revitalisation attempts are focused on standard Malay (a move she characterises as Malay imperialism) which is undermining the vitality of Sri Lanka Malay. Rassool goes on to criticise Ansaldo (2008)'s assessment of Malay endangerment in the Sri Lanka context where he describes the level of Malay knowledge according to different age groups and social classes in a number of Sri Lanka Malay communities. She suggests that an assessment of the vitality of Sri Lanka Malay needs a more fine-grained approach. For example she finds that Lim and Ansaldo's (2007) bleak assessment of the vitality of the language in Colombo only applies to the more powerful segment of the community, with Sri Lanka Malay continuing to be spoken as a home language in suburban Colombo. Lim and Ansaldo (2007) go on to suggest that the linguistic identity of the Malay community is more closely aligned to multilingualism than to Sri Lanka Malay itself and the orientation to standard Malay does not undermine their identity. Rassool argues that this view is influenced by the Sri Lanka Malay elite, does not adequately represent the community's views as a whole and, if implemented, would widen social class divides amongst Malay descendants. While this is a fair criticism, Rassool is somewhat un-self-reflexive in this assessment of Lim and Ansaldo's views given that the five Malay people she interviewed for this paper clearly influenced her own view of Sri Lanka Malay revitalisation and endangerment. For these interviewees there is a clear link between Sri Lanka Malay identity and the language (rather than multilingualism). Nonetheless this view should also not be taken to reflect that of the whole Malay community. As such, the strength of this paper is to demonstrate the divide which is commonly found within minority communities about the path forward for small languages.

Scott Paauw's paper, 'The Lexical Sources of Sri Lanka Malay Revisited', begins the linguistic analysis section by revisiting his (2004) work with new data. He also reexamines Adelaar’s (1991) and Gil’s (2010) surveys of the historical sources of the Sri Lanka Malay lexicon in light of this new data. Paauw (2004) found that 88.4% of the lexicon was of Malay origin, mostly Indonesian Malay (from Java and Maluku). Gil's (2010) analysis of Vehicular Malay, the language which formed the lexical basis of Sri Lanka Malay, comes to similar conclusions. The study presented here draws on a list of 1710 Sri Lanka Malay words derived from various sources and comes to similar conclusions as his 2004 study and Gil's (2010) study of Vehicular Malay, although with more weight given to Malay derived from Java rather than Maluku. Paauw then looks in detail at the pronoun paradigm which is of particular interest due to the variation in first and second person singular pronoun forms across Malay/Indonesian dialects. He finds that these pronouns are derived from the Java region unlike the rest of the pronoun paradigm which finds its origins in the Maluku region. In general this study gives Java a stronger role in the origins of Sri Lanka Malay vocabulary than previous work.

In his chapter, 'Sri Lanka Languages in the South-South Asia Linguistic Area: Sinhala and Sri Lanka Malay', James Gair situates Sri Lanka Malay within the South-South Asia Linguistic Area (SSLA), comparing it with Sinhala which is used as a reference point for SSLA. (Gair himself observes that this is a controversial choice for a point of comparison given the debate over the relative contribution of Sinhala and Tamil to the development of Sri Lanka Malay). Gair examines nine features which he claims are characteristic of SSLA: postverbal interrogatives, edge-marking subordinate clause affixes, preposed relative clauses, correlatives which use QH, sentence-final quotative 'say', subject-less nominalised sentences, focused (nominal cleft) sentences, various negative features, conjunctive participles which occur with overt lexical subjects, and sentence-final reportatives. Gair examines each of these in detail for Sinhala, Sri Lanka Malay and occasionally Tamil, noting that Sri Lanka Malay exhibits most of these SSLA characteristics. These results are unsurprising given that Sri Lanka Malay is a restructured variety of Malay based on Tamil (and perhaps Sinhala) which is already a member of the South-South Asia Linguistic Area.

Ian Smith's chapter 'Hijacked Constructions in Second Language Acquisition: Implications for Sri Lanka Malay' considers the role of untutored L2 acquisition in the development of Sri Lanka Malay, arguing for the status of Sri Lanka Malay as a creole (derived from L1>L2 influence) rather than a converged language (derived from L2>L1 influence). Smith examines one construction, the Dravidian verbal noun in Tamil and four languages in contact with Tamil: Sinhala, Sourashtra, Sri Lanka Portuguese and Sri Lanka Malay. He carefully outlines the functions of the verbal noun in Tamil which includes nominalised clauses, (past) experiential negative, (present) habitual negative, focus/cleft constructions, etc. Smith then demonstrates the presence of verbal nouns and similar functions in Sinhala, Sourashtra, Sri Lanka Portuguese and Sri Lanka Malay. Of particular interest is Sri Lanka Malay where the nominalised noun is formed through the Malay-derived prefix 'yang-' (and circumfix Cə-VERB-an), rather than a 3SG.NHUM suffix which is found in Tamil. Despite structural differences, this construction performs a similar (though not perfectly matched) range of functions as the verbal noun in Tamil. Nonetheless, Smith notes that many of these functions have parallels in Malay/Indonesian so a contact story is not straightforward. Smith claims that Sri Lanka Malay has 'hijacked' (what might elsewhere be seen as 'L1 transfer' or 'substrate influence') the Malay-derived 'yang-' and repurposed it under the influence of Tamil. He claims this is the result of untutored L2 acquisition which is common to creole genesis, rather than the result of L2>L1 influence which results in converged languages. Smith presents this as evidence in favour of categorising Sri Lanka Malay as a creole, but notes that 'hijacking' is not unique to creole formation and is found in other contact varieties. Indeed the issue of whether or not Sri Lanka Malay is a creole relates to the theme of the first section of the book which examined the socio-historical circumstances through which the language developed. The most likely socio-historical scenario for creole genesis would have been mixed Tamil-Malay marriages with children learning an L2 variety of Malay from their Tamil-speaking Moor mothers. Nonetheless Bakker's paper conclusively rejects this scenario and both Bakker’s and Slomanson's papers point to Tamil influence in other domains which more strongly supports a L2 influence > L1 scenario (or metatypy) and therefore the status of Sri Lanka Malay as a converged (or 'converted') language. And so the debate goes on!

In his chapter 'Serial Verb Constructions in Sri Lanka Malay' Mohamed Jaffar describes the range and function of complex verbs in Sri Lanka Malay. Although not stated explicitly, his description of SVCs in Sri Lanka Malay seems to fit Aikhenvald's (2006) category of asymmetrical serial verbs (first identified and discussed by Sebba (1987) and Durie (1997)), where one verb derives from an open class and the other verb derives from a restricted set and contributes aspectual, valency, deictic or limited semantic information to the verb complex. The structure of the asymmetrical serial verb construction is not described in detail here but seems to consist of the open class verb and the closed class verb (which Jaffar calls a vector verb cf. Nordhoff (2009), something referred to as a minor verb elsewhere in the literature on these constructions). TMA information seems to be encoded on either the open or closed class verb or as separate auxiliary verb. Jaffar compares the functions of minor verbs Sri Lanka Malay with Sinhala and Tamil varieties: 'take' (benefactive, ingressive, inceptive, inchoative, reciprocal), 'thrash' (intensity), 'be struck by' (passive hit, come into contact with), finish (completive), 'give' (benefactive), 'sit' (durative), etc. Many of these asymmetrical verb constructions such as 'finish', 'sit' and 'give' have parallels in other languages (Aikhenvald, 2006). Jaffar concludes that these serial verbs developed in Sri Lanka Malay as a result of contact with Tamil. This analysis would have been more stronger with the addition of Vehicular Malay to the comparison given that serial verbs are not uncommon in Austronesian languages (e.g. Senft, 2008). It may well be that the construction preexisted in Vehicular Malay, but further developed following the pattern of Tamil serial verbs. Indeed this is the analysis Paauw (2004) and Nordhoff (this volume) give. Interestingly this reinforcement and expansion scenario is also the case for another contact language, Gurindji Kriol, which contains asymmetrical serial verbs related to but not entirely like complex verbs in its source languages (Meakins, 2010).

Sebastian Nordhoff ends the volume's thread about the socio-historical and linguistic origins of Sri Lanka Malay with a compromise piece entitled: 'The Genesis of Sri Lanka Malay as a Multi-Layered Process'. He observes that different explanations for its origins exist, with the main contenders being creolisation (Smith et al., 2004) and metatypy (Ansaldo, 2008; Bakker, 2003). He then examines the phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics and pragmatics of Sri Lanka Malay for features which developed post-1873, when the Malay regiment in Sri Lanka was disbanded. This period is considered pivotal in the development of Sri Lanka Malay because this is when Sri Lankan features (whether via Tamil or Sinhala) were first imposed on Malay. Nordhoff observes that it was during this time that Tamil-like word order changes and the development of inflectional morphology were first attested. He identifies 22 features in all and assesses them against other situations of creolisation and metatypy. He notes that the sorts of typological features typical of creole genesis situations where a breakdown in the communicative system + successive reinvention (à la Bickerton) (or indeed successive periods of imperfect L2 learning à la Mufwene) occurs do not explain the changes in word order and morphological expansion found in the development of Sri Lanka Malay (see also Bakker this volume). Instead Nordhoff observes that these types of developments are most commonly seen in situations of convergence and metatypy where structures from languages of wider communication are transferred to minority languages. Nordhoff's focus on the relevant period of Sri Lankan history, the broad reach of features examined and his comparison with other contact situations produces very convincing conclusions.

The strength of this volume is its representation of the different perspectives on the origins of Sri Lanka Malay, particularly with regards to the type of relationship Malay immigrants had with Tamil (and Sinhala) communities, the degree of influence Tamil exerted over Malay (compared with Sinhala influence) and the characterisation of this influence as either a process of creolisation or metatypy. Although these different views are represented in this volume and reiterated from previous work (most notably Umberto Ansaldo's research), the reader can only conclude that Sri Lanka Malay is a Malay/Indonesian variety heavily restructured under the influence of Tamil (and only more recently Sinhala) which occurred as a result of sustained social contact with Tamil-speaking Moors (though not extensive intermarriage) and pervasive Malay-Tamil bilingualism among Malay descendants. A number of arguments against this view seem difficult to sustain, including pervasive Tamil-Malay intermarriage (e.g. Slomanson this volume and Smith et al. (2004)), a strong and old Sinhala influence (Ansaldo, 2008) and creolisation (Smith this volume, Smith and Paauw (2006)). The volume’s other strength is the continuing linguistic analysis of structural features of Sri Lanka Malay (in particular Jaffar and Smith papers and Nordhoff's final paper).

Some improvements could have been made to the introductory chapters to ease the uninitiated Sri Lanka Malay reader into some of the controversies surrounding this language and the themes of the previous (and quite extensive) literature. For example, a review of research on the structural features of Sri Lanka Malay would have been welcome in the introduction. A number of very interesting papers exist on the development of case morphology (Aboh & Ansaldo, 2007; Smith, Paauw, & Hussainmiya, 2004) and the TMA system (Smith & Paauw, 2006) which are not discussed elsewhere in the volume. Similarly the sketch grammar could have referenced this work. Instead this literature is largely ignored. Nonetheless this book will be of great value to linguists interested in the importance of socio-historical context in the development of contact languages and the interaction of structural features between languages in contact.

Aboh, E., & Ansaldo, U. (2007). The role of typology in language creation. In U. Ansaldo, S. Matthews & L. Lim (Eds.), 'Deconstructing Creole' (pp. 39-66). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Adalaar, S. (1991). Some notes on the origin of Sri Lanka Malay. In H. Steinhauer (Ed.), 'Papers in Austronesian Linguistics' (pp. 23-37). Canberra: ANU Press.

Aikhenvald, A. Y. (2006). Serial verb constructions in typological perspective. In A. Y. Aikhenvald & R. M. W. Dixon (Eds.), 'Serial Verb Constructions' (pp. 1-68). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Ansaldo, U. (2008). Sri Lanka Malay revisited: Genesis and classification. In D. Harrison, D. Rood & A. Dwyer (Eds.), 'Lessons from documented endangered languages' (pp. 13-42). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Ansaldo, U. (2011). Metatypy in Sri Lanka Malay. In G. Sharma & R. Singh (Eds.), 'Annual Review of South Asian Languages and Linguistics' (pp. 3-16). Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.

Bakker, P. (2003). Mixed languages as autonomous systems. In Y. Matras & P. Bakker (Eds.), 'The mixed language debate: Theoretical and empirical advances' (pp. 107-150). Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Bakker, P., Daval-Markussen, A., Parkvall, M., & Plag, I. (2011). Creoles are typologically distinct from non-creoles. 'Journal of Pidgin and Creole Languages', 26(1), 5-42.

Durie, M. (1997). Grammatical structures in verb serialisation. In A. Alsina, J. Bresnan & P. Sells (Eds.), 'Complex predicates' (pp. 289-354). Stanford: CSLI.

Gil, D. (2010). 'Malay/Indonesian Dialect Geography and the Sources of Sri Lanka Malay'. Paper presented at The Workshop on Sri Lanka Malay, Leipzig (Germany).

Jones, C., Meakins, F., & Muawiyath, S. (2012). Learning vowel categories from maternal speech in Gurindji Kriol. 'Language Learning', 62(4), 997–1260.

Lim, L., & Ansaldo, U. (2007). Identity alignment in the multilingual space: The Malays of Sri Lanka. In E. Anchimbe (Ed.), 'Linguistic Identity in Multilingual Postcolonial Spaces' (pp. 218-243). Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Press.

Meakins, F. (2010). The development of asymmetrical serial verb constructions in an Australian mixed language. 'Linguistic Typology', 14(1), 1-38.

Meakins, F. (2013). Mixed languages. In Y. Matras & P. Bakker (Eds.), 'Contact Languages: A Comprehensive Guide' (pp. 159-228). Berlin: Mouton.

Nordhoff, S. (2009). A Grammar of Upcountry Sri Lanka Malay. Utrecht: LOT Dissertation Series, 226.

Paauw, S. (2004). 'A Historical Analysis of the Lexicon of Sri Lanka Malay.' (Master of Arts), York University, Toronto.

Papiha, S., Mastana, S., & Jayasekara, R. (1996). Genetic variation in Sri Lanka. 'Human Biology', 68, 707-737.

Rosen, N. (2000). 'Non-Stratification in Michif.' University of Toronto, Toronto.

Sebba, M. (1987). 'The Syntax of Serial Verbs.' Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Senft, G. (Ed.). (2008). 'Serial verb constructions in Austronesian and Papuan languages.' Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.

Slomanson, P. (2013). Sri Lanka Malay. In S. Michaelis, P. Maurer, M. Haspelmath & M. Huber (Eds.), 'The Survey of Pidgin and Creole Languages: Vol. III' (pp. 77-85). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Smith, I., & Paauw, S. (2006). Sri Lanka Malay: Creole or convert. In A. Deumert & S. Durrleman (Eds.), 'Structure and variation in language contact' (pp. 159-182). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Smith, I., Paauw, S., & Hussainmiya, B. A. (2004). Sri Lankan Malay: The state of the art. In R. Singh (Ed.), 'Yearbook of South Asian Languages 2004' (pp. 197-215). Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Steward, J. (2011). 'A Brief Descriptive Grammar of Pijal Media Lengua and an Acoustic Vowel Space Analysis of Pijal Media Lengua and Imbabura Quichua.' (Master of Arts), University of Manitoba, Winnipeg.
Felicity Meakins is a research fellow at the University of Queensland (Brisbane, Australia). Her main research interests include Australian languages and language contact. Most of her work is on Gurindji Kriol, a mixed language spoken in northern Australia. She is the author of 'Case-Marking in Contact' (Benjamins 2011), 'Bilinarra to English Dictionary' (Batchelor Press 2013) and a co-author of 'A Grammar of Bilinarra' (Mouton 2014), and the 'Gurindji to English Dictionary' (Batchelor Press 2013). All of this work has been the result of fieldwork over the last 14 years in the Victoria River District of the Northern Territory (Australia).

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