Sasak voice



Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2017

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

Davies, William D.

First Committee Member

Beckman, Jill

Second Committee Member

Destruel Johnson, Emilie

Third Committee Member

Gavruseva, Elena

Fourth Committee Member

Travis, Lisa deMena

Fifth Committee Member

Larson, Brooke


This dissertation provides a formal and functional analysis of grammatical voice in Sasak, an Austronesian language spoken in Eastern Indonesia. The research addresses two primary questions, which are (1) how does Sasak clause structure and morphosyntax vary across dialects? and (2) what shapes speakers’ syntactic production, namely grammatical voice choices? Answers to these questions are pursued via elicitation data, a corpus analysis, and results of two language production experiments.

The first part of the dissertation examines how Sasak dialects differ syntactically and morphosyntactically. Data from embedded clauses, clitics, and possessive pronominal clitics are used to argue that that Central Sasak maintains two distinct transitive clause types despite the lack of the overt morphological contrast found with transitive verbs in Eastern Sasak. These data also support prior arguments (Davies, 1993; Guilfoyle, Hung, & Travis, 1992; Shibatani, 2008) that Indonesian languages have either two grammatical subject positions, or both a subject and grammatical topic position in the case of Sasak.

Many Austronesian languages spoken on Indonesia’s Java Island and surrounding islands share a cognate nasal prefix that is generally found in the presence of preverbal actors (Arka, 2009; Davies, 2005; Sneddon, 1996). This dissertation presents data from three Sasak dialects that show how multiple, morphologically distinct nasal prefixes in Sasak dialects (also noted by Austin, 2012) correlate with two syntactic facts: first, what argument may be extracted out of vP; and secondly, whether or not the lexical verb projects an internal argument. These facts are accounted for in a Minimalist framework (Chomsky, 1993, 2001) by permitting variation to target single features on syntactic heads (as proposed by Aldridge, 2008).

The second half of the dissertation investigates what factors shape speakers’ grammatical voice choices. Speakers’ production patterns can clearly be understood as shaped by the structural properties of their specific language(s), and this is also true in Sasak. However, what about when multiple word orders and voice choices are possible? When languages allow for syntactic options, are there universal non-syntactic constraints that exert influence on the production and syntactic coding choices? This dissertation explores potential universal biases identified in literature that has grown out of Bock and Warren’s (1985:50) work on Conceptual Accessibility, or the “ease with which the mental representation of some potential referent can be activated in, or retrieved from, memory”.

The specific biases examined for Sasak in the current work are Discourse Topicality (Givón, 1983), animacy (Branigan, Pickering, & Tanaka, 2008), and noun phrase length (MacDonald, 2013; Tanaka, Branigan, McLean, & Pickering, 2011). Results of a corpus analysis are combined with data from two production experiments, and show that both animacy and topicality affect voice selection in Sasak. Specifically, [+animate] and [+topical] noun phrases are produced earlier in a sentence, thereby affecting the grammatical voice produced. Also, Sasak speakers exhibit a ‘long before short’ bias (i.e., placing longer noun phrases before relatively shorter ones in utterances), affecting voice selection as well. Contextualized in cross-linguistic data, this supports the argument made in this dissertation that the cognitive effect of the semantic richness and salience of longer nouns is relative to the speaker’s stage in planning and producing an utterance.

Public Abstract

Language allows us to express an infinite number of ideas, but requires that we package this information into a linear string of words. The Sasak language, spoken in Eastern Indonesia, readily allows a number of different word orders. So what determines speakers’ choices? In order to answer this question, this dissertation utilizes interviews, ethnographic observation, two language production experiments, and an analysis of transcribed Sasak narratives.

This work foremost documents sentence structure in two Sasak dialects. Data from complex sentences is used to argue that – despite surface differences – Eastern and Central Sasak dialects maintain many of the same grammatical patterns. Moreover, these data also support arguments that Indonesian languages have two grammatical subject positions, as well as allow us to argue in support of Aldridge’s (2008) hypothesis that the Indonesian language verbal prefix (/meng-/) may have originated as a marker of intransitive clauses.

The second half of the dissertation examines factors that shape speakers’ grammatical choices, and it investigates potential universal biases identified in literature related to Bock and Warren’s (1985:50) work on Conceptual Accessibility, or, “ease with which the mental representation of some potential referent can be activated in, or retrieved from, memory”. Results from two language production experiments show that nouns that refer to living things, are relatively longer, and are more salient in the discourse, exhibit a bias to occur in an earlier sentence position. These results are then discussed in relation to results from an analysis of transcribed narratives.


conceptual accessibility, experimental syntax, morphosyntax, Sasak language, syntax, voice system


xix, 288 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 281-288).


Copyright © 2017 Eli Scott Asikin-Garmager

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