25.05.2015 - 03:28
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Computational and quantitative methods in historical linguistics

Applying computational and statistical methods to large lexical and typological dataset and supplementing empirical data with computer simulations we try to address questions like: How fast do different elements of language change? How can we classify all of the world's languages consistently? How did the present distribution of languages come about? [more]

Inheritance and contact in a language complex: the case of Taa varieties (Tuu family)

Taa, the only surviving member of the Tuu family (formerly "Southern Khoisan") with a substantial number of speakers, is a large cluster of dialects spoken by small bands of former hunter-gatherers (commonly referred to as "San") and stretching geographically from east-central Namibia from the Nossob River over the former Aminuis reserve into the Ghanzi and Kgalagadi Districts of Botswana up to a line Okwa-Tsetseng-Dutlwe-Werda. Mutual intelligibility usually exists between neighboring varieties, but differences between geographically remote dialects can amount to a linguistic distance found between languages. However, the dialectal diversity of Taa is still hardly documented. [more]

Intercontinental Dictionary Series (IDS)

The Intercontinental Dictionary Series (IDS), a long-term cooperative project, involves linguists all over the world, and aims at preserving information on little-known languages. To this end, a database will be established, where lexical material across the continents is organized in such a way that comparisons can be made. Historical studies, comparative, and theoretical linguistic research can then be based on this documentation. [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.


Re-evaluation of the Witotoan/Boran family/ies

In this project we examine the relationship between the Boran languages (Bora and Muinane) and the Witotoan languages (Witoto proper, Ocaina, Nonuya) spoken in the Northwest Amazon. [more]

'Sound Comparisons': 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]

The Kalahari Basin area: a 'Sprachbund' on the verge of extinction

The KBA project attempts to untangle some aspects of the complex linguistic and population history of the southern African groups speaking languages other than from the Bantu family. These are commonly subsumed under the unsubstantiated concept of a “Khoisan” family but might turn out to share certain traits because of convergence processes within a geographical area. The project will pursue a two-tiered approach, investigating southern Africa as a linguistic area from a broad perspective as well as offering fine-scaled studies of individual contact situations. The overall approach is a multidisciplinary one in involving linguists, molecular anthropologists and social anthropologists. [more]

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]