ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Accretion zones as spread zones – on the complex ethno-linguistic history of Jharkand


Peterson John - Kiel University, Linguistics, Kiel, Germany


19 – Beyond “linguistic areas” – Recent advances in the study of language contact in South Asia


The history of the Munda branch of the Austro-Asiatic family has long been a matter of debate, with some researchers proposing an origin in South Asia and others in Southeast Asia (see Rau & Sidwell, 2019 for an overview). In my talk I argue primarily from an areal-typological perspective that the earlier spread of Munda languages was considerably larger than the present-day spread of this family suggests and included much of the eastern Gangetic Plain. However, this region was almost certainly also inhabited by numerous other ethnic groups speaking languages from many different families, a situation which only changed with the arrival of Indo-Aryan in this region and its rise to lingua franca. I also argue that the central and eastern hill regions, which are now generally considered the traditional homelands of Munda speakers, do not in fact represent the earlier maximal spread of this family but are rather accretion or residual zones (Nichols, 1992; 1997) in which these languages have survived until modern times – unlike in the plains, where they have disappeared.

Nichols, Johanna. 1992. Linguistic Diversity in Space and Time. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

Nichols, Johanna. 1997. Modeling Ancient Population Structures and Movement in Linguistics. Annual Review of Anthropology 26. 359–384.

Rau, Felix and Paul Sidwell. 2019. The Munda maritime hypothesis. Journal of the Southeast Asian Linguistics Society JSEALS 12:2: 35-57.