Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Mark E. Karan


Why are there so many languages in the world and how did this diversity come about? Every day, humans around the world speak over 7,000 languages. One of the most impactful theories describing the processes and mechanisms of language diversification is that of the Linguistic Niche Hypothesis (Lupyan & Dale 2010). The Linguistic Niche Hypothesis suggests that languages adapt to their environments (Lupyan & Dale 2010: 1). Lupyan and Dale describe it, stating that "just as biological organisms are shaped by ecological niches, languages structures...adapt to the environment (niche) in which they are being learned and used" (2010: 1). Taking the Kayanic languages of Borneo—a subgroup that shows variegated patterns of diversity (reportedly, homogeneity among some dialects while stark heterogeneity among others)—this study aims to test the claims of the Linguistic Niche Hypothesis. Within this framework, I have proposed an innovative taxonomy which identifies ten main language environments or ecological niches, adding to language ecology theory: (1) physical niche, (2) social niche (3) cultural niche, (4) symbolic niche, (5) cognitive niche, (6) linguistic niche, (7) technological niche, (8) developmental niche, (9) bio-corporeal niche, and (10) genetic niche. This study will focus on physical, social, cultural, and linguistic niches—niches which have emerge as most salient in the creation of linguistic diversity within the Kayanic subgroup.

Included in

Linguistics Commons