Holly Drayton profile

Student profile photo missing

Holly Drayton

University of Surrey (2023)


Dr Oliver Bond


Western Austronesian voice in three Berawan-Lower Baram languages of northern Borneo: Typology, Description and Usage


Linguistic data from western Austronesian languages presents a challenge to syntactic theoretical assumptions. One major challenge concerns the typologically rare Symmetrical Voice systems, that differ significantly from better-known asymmetrical voice systems such as the English active-passive.

In English, the active voice (‘I am writing this text’) is considered to be unmarked since it is the most basic form, and requires two arguments – a subject and an object, while the passive voice (‘This text is being written (by me)’) is marked with additional verbal morphology; only requires one core argument, the subject; and is used in more restricted conditions.

Conversely, Symmetrical Voice systems have two or more distinct voices which allow for the same semantic change of subject function as the English passive, but neither voice is marked more than the other, and the different voice types tend to be used in a wider range of contexts. This means that neither voice can be identified as more basic than the other.

There is a growing body of research describing the voice systems of western Austronesian languages, but many issues remain controversial and unresolved. The key debates centre around differences in the degrees of symmetry between languages, the status of grammatical functions such as subject and object and what motivates speakers to choose one voice over another.

This research will provide new data from three endangered, under-described languages of the Berawan-Lower Baram family spoken in north Borneo to describe the syntactic and functional features of their voice systems and contribute to developing our understanding of the typology of voice.

Furthermore, this research will support the first documentation of the critically endangered language, Narum, with a collection of audio-visual texts for use by community members and further academic research in the present and future.