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Tim O'Neill records a speaker of the dialect he is studying after encountering a volunteer along the side of the road in Madagascar.
Tim O'Neill first traveled to Madagascar
as a potential environmental studies undergraduate whose interest in the
island nation off the southeast coast of Africa was its reputation as a
hot spot for biodiversity and environmental problems. But once he
visited, his curiosity was piqued by the languages and dialects he
Now, O'Neill is nearing the completion of his doctoral degree in linguistics
at the University of Delaware, with a final research trip to Madagascar
planned for about three months this summer, following a five-month stay
during fall semester.
He has received support for his research travels through a competitive global grant awarded by UD's Office of Graduate and Professional Education, in collaboration with the Institute for Global Studies and the University's seven colleges, and through a recently awarded National Science Foundation Dissertation Improvement Grant.
"I came to Delaware in 2007 specifically to study Malagasy [the
language of Madagascar], which is more closely related to Indonesian
languages than to Bantu languages" spoken in parts of continental
Africa, O'Neill said. Speakers of Indonesian languages were seafarers
earlier than were Bantu speakers and so are assumed to have reached
Madagascar first and to have had more influence on the island's
O'Neill's research focuses on documenting and analyzing a dialect of
standard Malagasy, called Betsimisaraka Malagasy, which is spoken along
the northeast coast of the country.
O'Neill began his previous trip to Madagascar by working intensively
for a month with a resident of Madagascar, who normally was an English
teacher, who taught him his native language. He then spent four months
making field trips to the town of Vavatenina to meet with residents who
spoke only Betsimisaraka and preparing to create a grammar of the
O'Neill, whose adviser is Jeffrey Heinz, assistant professor of
linguistics and cognitive science, expects to complete his dissertation
during fall semester.
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