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The people who speak Melanau are by far the largest indigenous language group in Central Sarawak, Borneo, Malaysia. Therefore, the various varieties of Melanau spoken along the coast and in a few enclaves along the Rajang River are of intrinsic interest. This article will explore a series of questions related to Melanau and other language communities of Central Sarawak: 1. What are the varieties of Melanau and how are they related? 2. In view of Chou’s conclusion that Bintulu is not a variety of Melanau, what is the relationship between Melanau and Bintulu? 3. How valid is the claim that Melanau and the Kajang languages form a linguistic grouping? 4. What are the relationships among the varieties of Punan and Penan? And how are Punan and Penan related to Melanau, Bintulu and the Kajang languages?
By application of the principles of the comparative method, inferences are drawn concerning sound changes that have affected various languages of Central Sarawak. These sound changes have affected the entire lexicon and have taken place over a long period of time. In recent years it has come to be recognized that the comparative method is a powerful tool for identifying linguistic relationships that significantly impact comprehension among speakers of related languages.