Broader Work in Indonesia
Since my first visit in 2017, I have built a professional relationship with the linguistics community in Indonesia. In generative circles, I have given several talks on my research at the Catholic University of Indonesia, Atma Jaya, and beyond that sphere, I have given conference presentations and invited talks on the relevance, utility, and practical ingredients of generative work to general audiences. In doing so, I aim to provide both intellectual tools and social support to Indonesian scholars who are interested in pursuing similar work.
Most recently, I visited the Government Language Office of East Java to give an invited talk on the relevance of generative research to language pedagogy [Generative Linguistics at the Frontiers of Cross-Cultural Engagement]. There, I explained to a general audience how old and new generative research on definiteness can help us to understand morphosyntactic patterns that are common to many Indonesian languages but absent from English. Beyond that, I have given talks to more specialized audiences on work that can be replicated in many languages of Indonesia, and laid out a theoretical framework and an analytical toolkit that can be extended to future work. For instance, at the linguistics department at Binus University, I recently gave an invited talk on the nature of subjecthood and the voice system in Mandar [Universal Grammar in West Sulawesi]. That talk connected an audience of undergraduates and faculty with the central questions of syntactic research in Western Austronesia and presented diagnostics to inspire parallel local work.
Looking ahead, I aim to use this network and profile to support the growth of the Indonesian linguistics scene, by building a framework of engagement that will be useful to the young Indonesian scholars who will lead it in the future.
A longstanding priority of mine has been to support documentary work on the island of Sulawesi, which is home to 116 languages that are threatened, underdocumented, and phenotypically distinct from the well-studied hegemonic languages of Western Austronesia.
The most important step I have taken to this end has been to build a working relationship with the Government Language Office of South Sulawesi, the body responsible for documentary efforts on much of Sulawesi. Since 2019, I have provided feedback and direction for a set of research projects conducted by that agency, and in August of 2022, I conducted a day-long invited workshop on Praat to support current phonological research on the languages of West Sulawesi. Looking forward, a follow-up zoom workshop on FLEx is planned for Spring 2023, in collaboration with a local advisee.
This engagement makes it possible to transfer practical and theoretical knowledge to the community that is professionally responsible for documentation, building toward my long-term goal of contributing to preservation and supporting the Indonesian linguistics scene.
Coming to West Sulawesi as a guest, I have worked closely with my language consultant and the local cultural authorities to build a social profile that is sensible and useful to the Mandar community at large. Since my first visit in 2019, I have built a network around the province, connected to universities and cultural institutions, and established myself as a member of the community of budayawans (people who work to preserve traditional knowledge).
From this position, I have made myself available to the broader community and worked to give back: by visiting local schools to help out in classes on English, giving an invited speech in Mandar at a traditional dance festival, and appearing in a variety of venues to speak about bilingualism, language maintenance, and the value of the language to the community and western academia.
To give a sense of what this looks like, I've linked an episode of a local podcast where I appear below. This episode, titled "What's special about Mandar?", is an interview with Ridwan Alimuddin, an author and documentary filmmaker, on the nature of my work with the language, the reason I am interested in it, and the results of my research over the past four years. The conversation first lays out a set of reasons why the language is special, from its vocabulary to its history to technical points about the grammar (the phoneme inventory, the prosodic phonology, and the remarkable pattern of rightward movement). After that, it spells out a set of contemporary sociolinguistic challenges in West Sulawesi and then turns to the reasons why a language might be threatened- and what might be done to slow its decline. The in-depth discussion occurs in Indonesian, but introduction and first few minutes are in Mandar.