Foraging and the history of languages in the Malay Peninsula

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The hunter-gatherer groups of Southeast Asia represent a diverse range of adaptations. The so-called Negritos of the Andaman Islands, the Malay Peninsula and the Philippines have attracted particular attention because of long-standing claims that they represent traces of pre-agricultural Southeast Asia. Research on Andaman and Philippine prehistory has tended to maintain at least some components of this view. Research on Malayan prehistory, however, has in recent decades taken a different course, proposing that the local Semang foragers represent a physical and economic adaptation in response to Neolithic and later events. This perspective developed alongside a general revisionist trend in anthropology which questioned the notion of hunter-gatherers as static relics of prehistory. The Malayan argument, inspired by a complex local situation of language–culture–biology relations, relied heavily on historical-linguistic reconstruction of the Aslian branch of Austroasiatic (Aslian languages are spoken by most aboriginal groups in the Malay Peninsula, including all of the Semang foragers). Recent genetic studies cast doubt on this Malayan perspective, suggesting instead a robust connection between the Semang foragers and the local pre-Neolithic population. In the present chapter I review the Malayan debate and, in light of new genetic and linguistic insights, outline a reinterpretation of the linguistic prehistory of the Malay Peninsula. Issues of language history, contact, change and shift are set against a proposed niche of hunting-gathering, in an effort to explain the current language identities and characteristics of the Semang foragers.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Language of Hunter-Gatherers
EditorsTom Güldemann, Patrick McConvell, Richard A. Rhodes
Place of PublicationCambridge
PublisherCambridge University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9781139026208
ISBN (Print)9781107003682
Publication statusPublished - 2020

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • General Language Studies and Linguistics


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