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Review of  Mon-Khmer Studies 38: A Journal of Southeast Asian Languages and Cultures

Reviewer: James Kirby
Book Title: Mon-Khmer Studies 38: A Journal of Southeast Asian Languages and Cultures
Book Author: Kenneth Gregerson
Publisher: SIL International Publications
Linguistic Field(s): Language Documentation
Subject Language(s): Achang
Chinese, Hakka
Khmer, Central
Language Family(ies): Mon-Khmer
Issue Number: 21.4579

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EDITOR: Gregerson, Kenneth
TITLE: Mon-Khmer Studies 38: A Journal of Southeast Asian Languages and Cultures
SERIES TITLE: Mon-Khmer Studies
PUBLISHER: SIL International
YEAR: 2009

James P. Kirby, Department of Linguistics, University of Chicago


Mon-Khmer Studies (MKS) is a journal devoted to the study of Southeast Asian
languages and cultures, focused on (but not necessarily limited to) those of the
Mon-Khmer family. Volume 38, edited by Kenneth Gregerson, is dedicated to the
late Dr. David D. Thomas. An influential scholar of Southeast Asian languages,
Dr. Thomas helped to launch the Mon-Khmer Studies journal, originally a joint
publication of the Linguistic Circle of Saigon and the Summer Institute of
Linguistics, in 1964. In addition to pioneering work on the Chrau language, Dr.
Thomas published extensively on Khmer, Thai, and Vietnamese, as well as on
reconstruction of the Mon-Khmer protolanguage.

In addition to twelve articles covering topics on the phonology, morphology,
syntax, and semantics of a variety of Southeast Asian languages, MKS 38 also
includes several brief articles (“notes”), conference reports, and a glossary.
Most of the papers provide novel empirical data on little-studied Southeast
Asian languages, or explore in greater detail aspects of the better-studied
languages of the family such as Thai, Khmer, or Vietnamese.

A number of contributions to MKS 38 take a typological perspective. In “A
typology of relative clauses in mainland Southeast Asian Languages”, Natchanan
Yaowapat and Amara Prasithrathsint identify eight types of relative clauses in
Thai, Lao, Vietnamese, and Cambodian, based on typological parameters such as
the position of the head noun, the order of the relative clause and the head
noun, and the omission of relativizers. Anish Koshy's contribution, “Indefinite
pronouns in Pnar”, identifies several interesting features in the distribution
and derivation of indefinites in this Mon-Khmer language (a close relative of
Khasi). Koshy discusses several types of derivational strategies (reduplicative
as well as non-reduplicative) and the properties of morphological derived versus
syntactically signaled indefiniteness.

Several papers discuss issues related to language contact and contact-induced
change. In “Mpi present and future: Reversing language shift”, Thomas M. Tehan
and Ramzi W. Nahhas discuss the state of the endangered Tibeto-Burman language
Mpi as spoken in two communities in Thailand. Although the future of Mpi is
seriously threatened by adoption of Northern and Central Thai by younger
speakers, the authors make some suggestions on how this seemingly inexorable
language shift might be reversed. Theraphan L-Thongkum and Chommand
Intajamornrak contribute “Tonal evolution induced by language contact: A case
study of the T’in (Lua’) language of Nan province, northern Thailand”, a paper
originally presented at the 2007 Max Planck Mon-Khmer Workshop. The authors
provide both lexical and acoustic evidence to bolster the claim that lexical
tone in the Mal dialect of T'in has its source in contact with and borrowings
from Northern Thai. Isara Choosri presents “Chung (Saoch) of Thailand and
Cambodia: phonological and lexical comparisons”, a sketch of two dialects of the
Chung (also known as Chong or Saoch) language as spoken in Kanchanaburi province
in Thailand and Kampong Som in Cambodia. Although non-tonal, Chung distinguishes
four ''registers'' which involve voice quality contrasts between creaky, modal,
breathy voice, and what Isara terms “breathy-creaky” voice (e.g. Theraphan
L-Thongkum 1992, Edmonson 1996). Isara considers various phonological and
lexical correspondences between the two dialects, and which should be attributed
to contact between Chung and Thai or Khmer.

Two papers address metalinguistic issues in some detail. In “Entries and exits:
An analysis of greetings and leave taking in Meitei speech community” [sic],
Chandam Bethiola describes greeting and leave-taking expressions in the
Tibeto-Burman language Meitei, illustrating how choice of form varies with
speaker status and as well as with ongoing changes in Meitei society. Sophana
Srichampa examines “Patterns of polite expressions in Vietnamese”, a
sociolinguistic survey of the use of polite speech forms in three Vietnamese
dialects. Through an extensive overview of the particles used in introduction,
thanking, greeting, leave-taking, apologies, etc., Sophana confirms the
continued importance of relative status and age of interlocutor in predicting
politeness particle selection and frequency of use.

Several other contributions are also focused on the distribution and grammatical
function of certain Vietnamese lexical items. In “Semantic extension of the verb
of giving in Vietnamese”, Suthatip Mueanjai and Kingkarn Thepkanjana examine the
extended lexical and grammatical meanings of the Vietnamese verb cho, usually
glossed as “to give”. They argue that while cho shows grammatical functions
cross-linguistically common to verbs of giving, such as dative, benefactive, or
contrastive marking, this verb has (at least) two idiosyncratic lexical meanings
in Vietnamese not found in other languages. Giang Pham and Kathryn Kohnert
present “A corpus-based analysis of Vietnamese ‘classifiers’ con and cai”, two
forms usually glossed as classifiers and which are compatible with a wide range
of nominals. Based on the results of their corpus analysis, the authors suggest
that these forms may be more parsimoniously considered a subtype of noun, rather
than forming a distinct lexical category.

Michel Ferlus provides the only purely comparative-historical contribution to
this volume with “Le mot ‘sang’ en austroasiatique”, in which he argues against
a single reconstruction for the Proto-Austroasiatic etymon *sa:m “to ooze,
bleed”. Excepting the Vietic languages in which it was replaced by forms meaning
“sap”, Ferlus demonstrates how the phonetic realizations of *sa:m in the modern
Austroasiatic languages may have resulted from various derivational processes
interacting with common sound changes such as s > h.

Orawan Boonyarith considers “Derivatives in Khmer compound words”, such as
/dɑmnaə/ “way, trip, travel” < /dɑə/ “to walk, to go, to move” or /cɑmnah/
“agedness, old age” < /cɑh/ “to be old, mature”, from the pedagogical
perspective of a native Thai speaker. In Thai, compounds are common but
transparently synchronic morphological derivatives rare, whereas morphological
derivatives are quite common in Khmer. Orawan illustrates the syntactic contexts
in which Khmer derivatives must be used, providing both Thai and English
equivalents for comparison.

“The Bangkok Hakka Phonology”, by Siripen Ungsitipoonporn, provides a
comprehensive sketch of the dialect of this Sino-Tibetan language as spoken in
the Thai capital, expanding on previous treatments of the same dialect (such as
Wandee Saengtummachai 2003) by providing brief acoustical and autosegmental
treatments of the tone system. This allows the tone sandhi processes 33 ->
325/__ 21, 31, 32 and 44 -> 53/__ 33, 4 to be treated as assimilation and
dissimilation, respectively, within an autosegmental framework. The paper also
includes a large corpus of Bangkok Hakka lexical items.

Jan-Olof Svantesson and Damrong Tayannin (Kàm Ràw), both of Lund University,
have worked extensively on the Kammu language and its dialects for many years.
Together with Lund University colleagues Lennart Engstrand, Marie Widén, and
Björn Widén, Svantesson and Tayannin have compiled “A checklist of Kammu plant
names” based on the Kammu Yùan dialect of Laos. The list is organized both by
Kammu name as well as by scientific (botanic) name, and loans from Lao are also

A pair of short articles on nasals (“The nasalization of final stops in modern
Khmer singing” by Naraset Pisitpanporn and “On labio-velar stops and nasals in
Vietnamese” by John Hajek) and reports on two international conferences
(Language Development, Language Revitalization, and Multilingual Education in
Ethnolinguistic Communities and the International Conference on National
Language Policy), which took place in July 2008 in Bangkok, complete the volume.


Volume 38 is a fine addition to the MKS series and will be of interest both to
specialists and non-specialists alike. The editors are to be commended in
particular for the breadth of the selections. The overall quality of the
empirical findings is generally quite high, and the value of this collection to
a broad spectrum of theoreticians, typologists, and other language researchers
should not be underestimated. However, few of the papers present much in the way
of theoretical discussion, which can make it difficult to evaluate their
contribution to scholarship. Many of the contributions might well be better
judged as ‘extended squibs’ (a format which could perhaps stand to make a bit of
a resurgence) rather than as full-length articles.

That having been said, there were a number of instances where I found myself
wishing the authors had provided a more in-depth analysis. For example, in the
absence of a discussion situating them in the broader context of Bangkok Hakka
phonology, the autosegmental representations provided by Siripen add little to a
purely descriptive account of the tone sandhi rules. In other instances, claims
made in the text are not supported by the empirical data provided. Natchanan and
Amara assert that Khmer provides counterexamples to the Noun Phrase
Accessibility Hierarchy of Keenan and Comrie (1977), but no such counterexamples
are to be found in their article. Furthermore, the unsupported claim made on
p.18 of the text (“subjects, indirect objects, and possessors can be relatived,
but direct objects cannot”) is then contradicted by the summary shown in Table 1
(p. 19). If true, this is an important finding deserving of greater theoretical
and empirical scrutiny on the part of the authors. One cannot help but think
this might have been addressed by reviewers or editors prior to publication.

The conclusions of several papers could be strengthened by inclusion of some
basic quantitative analysis. For example, the description by Theraphan and
Chommand of contact-induced tonal evolution in the Mal dialect T’in is
intriguing, but can only be regarded as preliminary in the absence of a
statistical comparison with tonal contours in Kham Muaeng. Similarly, Sophana’s
rather subjective assessment of e.g. frequency effects by gender on the use of
Vietnamese politeness expressions could be easily be quantified, which would
allow the application of standard sociolinguistic tools such as VARBRUL
analysis. In the case of Pham and Kohnert’s corpus-based analysis of Vietnamese
classifiers, the issue is not a lack of a quantitative data but lack of a clear
standard of comparison. For instance, the authors make the claim that a
difference in the proportional corpus frequency of con and cái indicates that
they should not be treated (at least pedagogically) as classifiers on the
grounds that “cái indicated inanimacy in the majority of cases (>65%) but still
less than the proportion one would predict for a prototypical word” (168-9). As
that portion is left undefined, it is difficult to situate the results either
typologically or pedagogically.

One could regard these suggestions as directions for future work, and the
absence of such analyses in no way detracts from the descriptive and empirical
contributions made by the articles in the volume as it stands. Each article
could potentially appear in another journal in an extended and expanded form.
However, I see no reason why Mon-Khmer Studies should not be that journal.
Communicating suggestions such as those made above to the authors at the time of
submission could only improve the quality what is already a fine publication.


Edmonson, J. A. 1996. Voice qualities and inverse filtering in Chong. Mon-Khmer
Studies 26:107-116.

Keenan, E. and B. Comrie. 1977. Noun phrase accessibility and universal grammar.
Linguistic Inquiry 8:63-99.

L-Thongkum, T. 1992. An instrumental study of Chong register. In J. H. C. S.
Davidson (ed.), Mon-Khmer Studies in Honour of Harry Shorto, pp. 141-160.
London: School of African and Oriental Studies.

Wandee Saengtummachai. 2003. A phonological study of the Meixian Hakka dialect
of Bangkok, Thailand, in comparison with Hashimoto's study of the Meixian Hakka
dialect in China. Mahidol University MA thesis.

James P. Kirby received his Phd in Linguistics from the University of Chicago in 2010. His research interests include the phonetics of sound change, computational models of language acquisition and transmission, and languages of mainland Southeast Asia.

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ISBN-13: 9781556712401
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