Towards a Cross-Disciplinary Prehistory:
Converging Perspectives from Language, Archaeology and Genes
Across the many disciplines that research the human past, all too often overlooked is how linguistics too can open up its own ‘window on the past’ — in many respects just as surely as can our genes, the ‘material culture’ that our ancestors left behind for archaeologists, or even early historical records. Likewise, though, that linguistic record can itself only safely be read, for what it really means for our past, when set coherently within a cross-disciplinary understanding of the broader contexts of human population prehistory.
This research aims to explore and clarify a set of basic general principles for how we might most valuably and reliably make use of comparative language data to contribute to uncovering (pre)history on a worldwide level. [more]
Language Relatedness and Divergence:
Quantitative and Phylogenetic Approaches
The above research theme on Cross-Disciplinary Prehistory explains why I do comparative linguistics: ultimately, to help gain a better understanding our the human past. As for precisely how to go about mining language data to inform us on this, meanwhile, that is the focus of this theme. To do so it takes the single most basic key to the linguistic record of population (pre)history, namely language relatedness, and has developed new quantitative approaches to address both of its main facets:
- To help evaluate whether given language lineages do or do not stem from a common origin…
- And if they do, to measure as finely as possible just how closely they are related, or in other words, how far they have diverged from their common ancestor.
New Tools and Resources for Exploring Language Family Diversity on the Web
This research project creates ‘hover to hear’ websites to allow users to hear and compare instantaneously online the precise differences in how specific cognate words are pronounced from one region to the next across an entire language family at a time. The database is that of the related research theme on Language Relatedness and Divergence, which in this accompanying project is turned into an online resource not just for researchers in linguistics, but also for the people who actually speak the language varieties concerned. It already covers many thousands of individual word recordings and phonetic transcriptions from scores of regional accents, dialects and languages across both Europe and the Andes. [more]
Sounds of the Andean Languages
Within the broader framework of the above Sound Comparisons research theme, this is a specific project to document and quantify the degree of divergence in phonetics of the major language families of the Andes, particularly Quechua, Aymara and Mapudungun (‘Mapuche’). Our comparative recordings and transcriptions will be made available on the much revised and expanded Sounds of the Andean Languages website, to be relaunched in spring 2013. [more]