Saxena to speak on Indo-Aryan in typological and areal perspective


Anju Saxena, Professor at Department of Linguistics and Philology, Uppsala University will deliver a key note speech with the title “Indo-Aryan in typological and area perspective” at the 32nd South Asian Languages Analysis Roundtable Conference (SALA-32) which will take place at the Universidade de Lisboa, Portugal, 27-29 April 2016. 

For more information about the ocnference see

Indo-Aryan in typological and areal perspective

Anju Saxena Uppsala University

South Asia presents a long history of contact situation. This contact situation has made, according to the dominant opinion (e.g., Emeneau 1956; Masica 1976; Kachru, Kachru and Sridhar 2008), the languages of this region more similar in some respects to each other than they are to their genealogically related languages spoken outside this region, and that consequently South Asia should be considered a linguistic area. However, with some rare exceptions (e.g. Masica 1976) most studies are largely impressionistic, drawing examples from a few languages (Ebert 2006).

In order to critically examine the “South Asia as a linguistic area” hypothesis, we need a deeper understanding of (i) the typological profiles of at least its major language families, which comprise most languages spoken in this region; and (ii) the spread and extent of a range of linguistic features across space and language families. Both these questions remain uninvestigated.

Taking this as our starting point, we want to examine in this presentation if Indo-Aryan (IA) languages, despite this long-standing contact situation, exhibit some morphosyntactic characteristics which singly or jointly distinguish this language family from other major language families of South Asia. For this purpose, we will examine six linguistic features. The focus here is on their synchronic, areal distribution, not on the historical development of these features in IA.

In order to carve out IA as a language family with its own typological profile, we need to also see how languages of other language families of this region behave with regard to these features. For this reason, we will examine here the same linguistic features both in IA languages and in languages belonging to the other three major language families present in South Asia – the Dravidian (DR), Tibeto-Burman (TB) and Austroasiatic (AA) language families.

Data for this study comes from Grierson’s Linguistic Survey of India (LSI), more specifically from its comparative vocabulary volume, except for the feature Reflexives where we have used the grammar sketches from the full LSI and some other secondary sources. For the present purposes, we included data of 267 linguistic varieties belonging to the four major language families of South Asia. The present study is part of a larger endeavor aiming at developing computational, big-data, methods supporting linguists in the comparative study of extensive sets of linguistic features in large numbers of languages (see further <>).

Our results will show that there is no major, coherent typological divide between the patterns which IA languages display and the patterns found in languages of the other major language families of this region with regard to the six linguistic features which we will examine here.