What language do "the spirits of the yellow leaves" speak?: A case of conflicting lexical and phonological evidence
This paper (which in part summarizes two papers to appear in Acta Orientalia but which presents separate information as well) deals with some issues raised by descriptive and comparative linguistic work in northern Thailand. The putative Austroasiatic languages "Yumbri" and "Mrabri" (more correctly: Mlabri) have been assigned to "Khmuic" within the Mon-Khmer languages, but the relationship between these two idioms has been a controversial issue. On the basis of recent fieldwork all existing data on "Yumbri" and "Mrabri" can be shown to reflect one and the same language Mlabri in spite of wide discrepancies in notation; these do not even reveal major phonological dialect differences whereas there are conspicuously different lexical usages. This has not so far been properly understood because of difficulties in the interpretation of earlier data which were all gathered by amateurs. - As for the tentative genetic classification of Mlabri as Khmuic, the lexical evidence used to substantiate this claim now turns out to be controversial: a large number of the Khmuic words in Mlabri are rather direct reflexes of en early stage of Tin, a language that has been assigned to the Khmuic branch of Mon-Khmer. Thus, it is either the case that Mlabri and Tin are sister-languages (forming a "Tinic" branch of Khmuic) or that Mlabri has early borrowings from Tin.
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