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(May 2010) International linguistics consultant Paul Kroeger of SIL was one of four invited speakers at The Fourteenth International Symposium on Malay/Indonesian Linguistics (ISMIL14) held 30 April to 2 May at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, USA. Kroeger’s paper, “Focus in situ in Indonesian,” addressed the extent to which narrow focus can be expressed by nonstructural means.
In Indonesian, focused constituents often occur in sentence-initial position. Narrow focus can be marked with intonation alone (focal stress) in languages like English and Dutch. In Indonesian, however, this strategy is either unavailable or strongly disfavored. Instead, Indonesian speakers use the cleft and focus-fronting constructions in many contexts where normal word-order would be preferred in English and Dutch. In clausal negation, moreover, the “special” negator bukan seems to be strongly preferred over the “standard” negator tidak when a narrow focus reading is intended. A possible explanation for this fact might be that bukan in verbal clauses actually signals metalinguistic negation.
Another SIL linguist presenting a paper was Eldwin Lai Truong of SIL Indonesia. His paper, “Malay varieties of southern Sumatra: An evaluation of Levenshtein distance as a tool for dialect classification,” shows that a quantitative method for phonetic analysis of dialect variation is able to approximate the traditional qualitative method of historical-comparative classification based on consistent sound changes.