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By J. Allard, E. Feuillatre

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Recognizing this fact, the term ‘‘linguistic area’’ (or Sprachbund ) refers to a geographical area in which genetically unrelated languages have come to share many linguistic features as a result of long mutual influence (Emeneau 1956). One of the classic examples of a linguistic area is South Asia, where Indo-Ayran, Dravidian, and Munda languages have been co-located for 3,000 years. Languages of all three families now share many features—in vocabulary, phonology, and grammar. Similarly, mainland Southeast Asia (including southern China) is a linguistic area because there are many shared features across the main language families of the region (Matisoff 1992; Enfield 2003: ch.

Languages of all three families now share many features—in vocabulary, phonology, and grammar. Similarly, mainland Southeast Asia (including southern China) is a linguistic area because there are many shared features across the main language families of the region (Matisoff 1992; Enfield 2003: ch. 2). Among these features we have already seen the limited range of syllable structures and presence of lexical tone (phonological features), and the lack of inflection and existence of classifier constructions (morphological and syntactic features).

Once the speech communities are separated, the natural process of language change leads them to diverge from one another, eventually becoming different languages. Over thousands of years there are many ways in which the descendants of a single ancestor language can split and diverge, then split and diverge again. The family trees of languages can therefore be very complex, with many branches and sub-branches. e. which are genetically related. If there are written records which have survived from ancient times this is a great help, but it is not essential.

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