Organized Panel Session
Linguistic evidence can reveal patterns of long-term contact between speakers of languages. The study of language contact, based in historical and comparative linguistics, tries to discern manifestations of multilingualism. The vocabulary, syntax, and sounds of a language contain traces of other speech communities. Language contact usually takes place in geographic areas tied through cultural, religious, political, and economic networks. We have posited a “Greater Burma Zone” as an area of interaction which encompasses the modern state of Myanmar, together with cross-border areas of what are today Bangladesh, Northeast India, Yunnan, and Thailand. Concatenations of contact have tied together the Zone, which today cuts across Southeast, South, and East Asia, and five national boundaries. The Zone served as the basis for a four-year research project examining language contact among speech communities therein. Linguistic evidence is an untapped source largely ignored outside of linguistics. As one historian and three linguists, we want to bring language into wider conversations in history, sociology, and anthropology. For example, linguistic evidence suggests a time depth to the supra-ethnic category of “Kachin,” but also suggests that other ethnic identities, such as the Rakhaing, have been recent evolutions, even though they may appear simultaneously modern yet always already ancient. Language can also reveal aspects of the pasts of speech communities which lacked written records until the colonial period. We hope to start to reunite some organic unities which borders, whether national or of area studies, have separated.