Linguistics and English Language

Meaning and grammar seminar

Speaker: Charlotte Hemmings (University of Oxford)

Title: Reanalysis in the History of Enggano Relative Clauses

Abstract: This paper sketches an analysis of the history of relative clauses in Enggano, an Austronesian language spoken off the south coast of Sumatra, Indonesia. Unlike many Western Austronesian languages, Enggano does not have a subject-only extraction restriction on relativization. Instead, S, A and P can all be relativized on using a verbal construction where the relative clause verb is marked with ki- (see Kähler 1940, Hemmings & Dalrymple 2023). In older texts collected in the late 19th and early 20th century, ki- is the only verbal marker that occurs with relative clause verbs, whilst main clause predicates can be marked with ki-, bu- or occur in bare form with agreement. In contemporary texts, collected as part of ongoing language documentation since 2018, however, other verbal structures occur in relative clauses too. We take this as evidence of a process of reanalysis, where ki- is originally innovated as a relative clause marker (much like the cognate form si= in Nias, Brown 2001). It is subsequently extended to main clause contexts via reanalysis of a cleft construction. In older texts, main clause usages reflect out of the blue contexts where a cleft structure might also be expected. However, in contemporary usage the distinction between main clauses and relative clauses has been fully blurred and ki- simply behaves as a distinct verbal form to bu-. This is interesting since the reanalysis of relative clauses is thought to play a role in the development of Western Austronesian symmetrical voice morphology (and hence the extraction restriction too) (see Kaufman 2018). Hence, Austronesian languages may be particularly prone to insubordination or the reanalysis of subordinating structures as main clause structures.


  • Brown, Lea. 2001. A Grammar of Nias Selatan. PhD Thesis, University of Sydney.
  • Hemmings, Charlotte & Mary Dalrymple. 2023. ‘Relative Clauses in Enggano’. Paper presented at 32nd Annual Meeting of the Southeast Asian Linguistics Society (SEALS   2023), Chiang Mai University, Chiang Mai, Thailand, 16-18th May.
  • Kähler, Hans. 1940. Grammatischer abriss des Enggano. Zeitschrift für Eingeborenen Sprachen 30, 81–117, 182–210, 296–320.
  • Kaufman, Daniel. 2018. Austronesian predication and the emergence of biclausal clefts in Indonesian languages. In Sonja Riesberg, Asako Shiohara & Atsuko Utsumi (eds.),     Perspectives on information structure in Austronesian languages, 207-246. Berlin: Language Science Press.


Seminars are organised by the meaning and grammar research group.

Meaning and grammar research group

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Oct 03 2023 -

Meaning and grammar seminar

2023-10-03: Reanalysis in the History of Enggano Relative Clauses

Venue TBC