Diachronic Toponomastics and Language Reconstruction in South-East Asia According to an Experimental Convergent Methodology: Abui as a Case-Study


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Diachronic toponomastics and language reconstruction in South-east Asia according to an experimental convergent methodology: Abui as a case-study. The aim of this paper is to propose and to provide a new experimental methodology in the study of endangered and/or undocumented languages starting from toponymy and applying to this field innovative diachronic toponomastics
criteria partly adopted from Indo-European linguistics. This new convergent methodology provides an all-embracing analysis of toponyms, hydronyms, and oronyms of a specific area not only through the lens of ‘pure’ etymology and historical phonetics, but also through a systematic and extensive
examination of collected data by other scientific disciplines, such as historical geography, landscape archaeology, geo-archaeology, analytical archaeology, historical cartography, historical topography, paleo-anthropology, genetics, and historical semantics. This convergent and experimental application
of diachronic toponomastics criteria to the toponymy of endangered and/or undocumented languages allows for the reconstruction not only of the ‘remote stratigraphy’ of place names, hydronyms, and oronyms, but also of the speakers’ interpretation and description of the environment, of their visual
representation of the landscape and territory, and of their (spiritual and pragmatic) relationships with the geographical space. This methodology allows us to highlight the ancient origins of the languages under investigation and, by crossing linguistic data with data from other disciplines, to go back in
time maybe until the prehistory of a population and, moreover, of a culture and/or a civilization. This method also provides valuable information about people’s movements and settlement dynamics over time. The first part of the paper outlines a theoretical description of the methodology; the second part
provides two analytical (and systemic) examples of the application of this method from / on Abui (a language belonging to the Alor-Pantar family of Papuan languages spoken on the islands of the Alor archipelago near Timor, in Southern Indonesia), in order to set and to propose an initial pattern related to this experimental hermeneutic and epistemological approach.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)29-47
Number of pages18
JournalReview of Historical Geography and Toponomastics
Issue number19-20
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2015


  • Toponymy
  • Language Documentation


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