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The Settlement of Madagascar: What Dialects and Languages Can Tell Us

By Maurizio Serva


The dialects of Madagascar belong to the Greater Barito East group of the Austronesian family and it is widely accepted that the Island was colonized by Indonesian sailors after a maritime trek that probably took place around 650 CE. The language most closely related to Malagasy dialects is Maanyan, but Malay is also strongly related especially for navigation terms. Since the Maanyan Dayaks live along the Barito river in Kalimantan (Borneo) and they do not possess the necessary skill for long maritime navigation, they were probably brought as subordinates by Malay sailors. In a recent paper we compared 23 different Malagasy dialects in order to determine the time and the landing area of the first colonization. In this research we use new data and new methods to confirm that the landing took place on the south-east coast of the Island. Furthermore, we are able to state here that colonization probably consisted of a single founding event rather than multiple settlements.To reach our goal we find out the internal kinship relations among all the 23 Malagasy dialects and we also find out the relations of the 23 dialects to Malay and Maanyan. The method used is an automated version of the lexicostatistic approach. The data from Madagascar were collected by the author at the beginning of 2010 and consist of Swadesh lists of 200 items for 23 dialects covering all areas of the Island. The lists for Maanyan and Malay were obtained from a published dataset integrated with the author's interviews

Topics: Research Article
Publisher: Public Library of Science
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Provided by: PubMed Central

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