Most of my current interests in linguistics stem from the twelve years I spent as a member of the Philippine branch of the Summer Institute of Linguistics. For the first four years (1959-63), I lived in a fairly remote village of Bontoc, Mountain Province doing basic linguistic research as part of the Institute’s Bible translation program. After three years of graduate study in the then newly formed Department of Linguistics at the University of Hawaii (1963-66), I returned to the Philippines as a linguistic consultant for four years (1966-70), becoming more or less acquainted with many of the more than 100 languages spoken in the country. I had also had opportunity in 1964 to do some fieldwork on several of the Formosan languages (i.e., the Austronesian languages of Taiwan), and gradually became interested in the genetic relationships which characterize all of these languages. In 1970 I joined the University of Hawai’i, bringing with me a grant from the National Science Foundation to prepare a dictionary of the Bontok language. I joined the Pacific and Asian Linguistics Institute (PALI), which was later incorporated into the Social Science and Linguistics Institute (SSLI), and later renamed the Social Science Research Institute (SSRI). Upon the completion of the dictionary (M05) my position was split between the Institute and the Department of Linguistics, a situation which I maintained until my retirement in 2001. Since retirement I have spent most of my time in Japan, presently (2008) as a cooperating researcher with the National Museum of Ethnology (MINPAKU) in Osaka. In 2007, I was an affiliated researcher with the International Institute of Asian Studies, Leiden, the Netherlands, and will be a visiting researcher in the Research Center for Humanities and Social Sciences of the National Tsing Hua University, Hsinchu, Taiwan, participating in the Project Monsoon Asia and Multi-Culturalism for one year from June 2009.
My interest in comparative studies of Philippine languages resulted in a number of research trips between 1987 and 1993, and subsequently (most recently in 2007) to study the languages of some of the groups of Negritos who live in Northern Luzon. The Negritos are descendants of the pre-Austronesian populations in the Philippines who apparently, like other Negrito groups in Southeast Asia, gave up their languages in favor of the languages of the more technologically advanced Austronesian migrants (A27, A28). I have claimed however that there is some substratal evidence that still remains of their pre-Austronesian languages (A37). Some of the Northern Luzon Negrito languages still retain very conservative features of the Austronesian languages that they adopted (A31). Arta (A29), for example, now with fewer than 50 remaining speakers, appears to be a first-order subgroup of the Cordilleran language family. (A27, A28, A30, A36, A70, A72)
Living in the mountains of Northern Luzon for many years in one of the world-famous rice terrace areas, piqued my interest in the antiquity of the terraces that the inhabitants there have sculpted out of precipitous mountain sides, especially in view of the claim by some pre-historians that rice is a relatively recent crop in the area. Reconstruction of much of the lexicon related to rice and to the construction and maintenance of the terraces to the parent language of the Central Cordilleran subgroup suggests that knowledge of the crop and its cultivation in the area goes back several thousand years, and is consistent with the claims that rice was a staple in Proto-Austronesian times, and was brought into the Philippines with the earliest migrants from Formosa. (A38)
In 1988, while attending a conference in Zagreb, Yugoslavia, I had the opportunity to sit in on a symposium which focused on the Tasaday, a small group of people living in the rain forests of South Cotabato, on the island of Mindanao in the Philippines. When reports about them first appeared in the early 1970’s, claims were made that they had been completely isolated for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years, and that they were still living a stone-age existence in caves, unaware of the presence of agriculturalists less than half a day’s walk away across a steep mountain ridge. Several prominent anthropologists claimed at the symposium that the group was a hoax perpetrated to enhance the political fortunes of a prominent Filipino businessman and (at that time) a member of President Ferdinand Marcos’ cabinet. Other presenters vigorously claimed the authenticity of the group. I decided to attempt to throw light on the controversy by examining the language used by the Tasaday. Between 1993 and 1996, I spent a total of approximately 10 months with them and surrounding linguistic groups, and have come to the conclusion that the Tasaday probably were as isolated as they claim, that they were indeed unfamiliar with agriculture, that their language was a different dialect from that spoken by the closest neighboring group, and that there was no hoax perpetrated by the original group that reported their existence. The length of their isolation however was probably in the range of 5-10 generations, not in the thousands of years. (A34, A41, A42) Some of my work on the Tasaday, along with transcriptions of cave tapes, and other materials appears in my Tasaday website (W01, W02). A recent book by award-winning author, Robin Hemley, Invented Eden: The Elusive, Disputed History of the Tasaday (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), provides a very readable account of the hoax controversy, including summary statements of the linguistic evidence for their authenticity.
The possible relationship of the Austronesian language family to other language families has interested me for a number of years. The Austro-Tai hypothesis as proposed by Paul Benedict seemed to me to have merit, although the key evidence presented for it has been claimed more recently to be the result of contact between some pre-Austronesian group and the speakers of the parent of the Tai-Kadai language family, or one of its early descendants. The position of the Austro-Asiatic family vis-à-vis the Austronesian family also seemed worth investigating. I examined the early claims of Schmidt who claimed that they were related and gave the super-family the name Austric. Although many of his claims could not be supported, given our greater knowledge of the families involved, a careful re-examination of the morphology of the two language families, especially that found in Nicobarese, an isolated Mon-Khmer language, strongly suggests that a genetic relationship between the two families does in fact exist. (A26, A35, A39, A40, A44, A57, A60, A61)
One of my current research projects is a revision of the dictionary of the Bontok language, as spoken in the village of Guina-ang, first published in 1976. A web-based version first appeared in 1999, but is now completely reprogrammed and available to the public (W04). Because Bontok language and society are undergoing rapid change as a result of the influence of Filipino/Tagalog and also Ilokano (A58, A77), every effort is being made to document traditional Bontok speech and aspects of the culture. The dictionary has sound files attached to most headwords and some example sentences to enable the actual pronunciation to be heard. Hundreds of photos of cultural items are also accessible through the appropriate headwords, as well as links to large amounts of published and unpublished text materials from Guina-ang, Bontoc. (A01, A02, A11, A12)