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Revitalizing Endangered Languages

Edited by Justyna Olko & Julia Sallabank

Revitalizing Endangered Languages "This guidebook provides ideas and strategies, as well as some background, to help with the effective revitalization of endangered languages. It covers a broad scope of themes including effective planning, benefits, wellbeing, economic aspects, attitudes and ideologies."

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Dissertation Information

Title: Reconstructing Linguistic History in a Dialect Continuum: The Kamta, Rajbanshi, and Northern Deshi Bangla subgroup of Indo-Aryan Add Dissertation
Author: Matthew Toulmin Update Dissertation
Email: click here to access email
Institution: Australian National University, School of Language Studies, Faculty of Arts
Completed in: 2006
Linguistic Subfield(s): Historical Linguistics; Genetic Classification;
Subject Language(s): Rajbanshi
Director(s): Malcolm Ross
Bethwyn Evans
Harold Koch
Luise Hercus

Abstract: This study outlines a methodological framework for reconstructing
linguistic history within a dialect continuum and applies this methodology
to an under-described, controversial, and complex subgroup of New
Indo-Aryan (NIA)—the Kamta, Rajbanshi and Northern Deshi Bangla lects (KRNB).

Dialect continua are characterised by non-discrete boundaries between
speech communities, and as a result previously divergent lects may undergo
common innovations; the result is the familiar picture of overlapping
dialectological isoglosses. The sequencing of these innovations and the
historical relations between the lects involved are often highly ambiguous.
Given the right sociohistorical conditions, a widespread innovation may be
more recent than a localised innovation—the very opposite sequencing to
that implied by the splits in a family tree.

Not surprisingly, discrete application to the NIA continuum of traditional
methodologies—including the Comparative Method, etymological reconstruction
and dialect geography—has yielded unsatisfactory and at times
chronologically distorted results. Historical studies, therefore, have
chosen between: (a) only studying the histories of NIA lects with written
records; (b) reconstructing using the chronology suggested by the shape of
a family tree; or (c) settling for a ‘flat’, non-historical account of
dialect geography.

Under the approach developed here, the strengths of each of these
traditional methods are synthesised within an overarching framework
provided by a sociohistorical theory of language change. This synthesis
enables the linguistic history of the KRNB lects to be reconstructed with
some detail from the proto-Kamta stage (1250-1550 AD) up to the present
day. Innovations are sequenced based on three types of criteria:
linguistic, textual and sociohistorical. The old Kamta stage, and its
relation to old Bangla and Asamiya, is reconstructed based on linguistic
Propagation Events and Speech Community Events—two concepts central to the
methodology. The old Kamta speech community and its language became divided
into western, central and eastern subsections during the middle KRNB period
(1550-1787 AD, dates assigned by attested sociohistorical events). During
the same period, KRNB lects also underwent partial reintegration with NIA
lects further afield by means of more widely propagated changes. This trend
of differentiation at a local level, concurrent with reintegration at a
wider level, also characterises the modern KRNB period from 1787 AD to the

This account of KRNB linguistic history is based on a rigorous
reconstruction of changes in phonology and morphology. The result is not
only a reconstruction of historical changes, but of the proto-Kamta phoneme
inventory, hundreds of words of vocabulary, and specific areas of nominal
and verbal morphology. The reconstruction is based on data collected in the
field for the purposes of this study. Phonological reconstruction has made
use of the WordCorr software program, and the reconstructed vocabulary is
presented in a comparative wordlist in an appendix.

The methodology developed and applied in this study has been found highly
successful, though naturally not without its own limitations. This study
has significance for its contribution both to the methodology of historical
linguistic reconstruction and to the light shed on the linguistic
prehistory of KRNB.