Showing posts from September, 2015

New paper on language macro-families, from Austro-Tai to Indo-European-Chukotko-Kamchatkan

A new paper was published three days ago in  PNAS  by Gerhard J äger on language macro-families, to add to  Annemarie Verkerk's  list of  phylogenetic linguistics papers that have appeared this month .  I give here both a couple of encouraging results from the paper (mainly statistical support for the Austro-Tai hypothesis), and a couple of criticisms (mainly of the parsimony-based method of constructing the phylogeny).        One of the greatest achievements of linguistics has been the discovery of large language families.  Some 583 languages of Europe and India from English to Nepali have been demonstrated to be descendants of a single common language, Proto-Indo-European.  A further 1274 languages spread around the Pacific and the Indian Ocean from Madagascar to Hawaii have been shown to be descended from a single language spoken in Taiwan, Proto-Austronesian.  The  7-8000 languages of the world described so far have been placed into roughly 430 large groups

Phylogenetic happenings in September 2015

Humans who read grammars can use a variety of tool sets to analyse the linguistic diversity they encounter. One of these tool sets that is still relatively new to this particular set of humans is called 'phylogenetic comparative methods'. These methods assess linguistic features as they evolve on the branches of a family tree (aka phylogenetic tree). The combination of information on the history of a language family with data on typological features allows typologists to do cool things like infer what ancestral languages were like and how quickly features change. For unknown reasons, magical things happened, planets aligned and in the first two weeks of September EIGHT new cool phylogenetic studies appeared! Let's have a look! First up are several talks presented at the "Historical relationships among languages of the Americas" workshop held during the 48th Annual Meeting of the Societas Linguistica Europaea that was held in Leiden (NL) in early September

The World Atlas of Universal Grammar

The World Atlas of Universal Grammar is an ongoing project documenting features of languages, by a team of more than eight authors.   Each feature is a structural property that describes one aspect of cross-linguistic homogeneity.   A feature has between 0 and 87178291200 values, shown by different colours on the maps.  Here is a sample of the features listed by author. Steven Pinker Does the language reverse the order of words in a sentence to form a question? Yes       No Does the language employ musical melodies for words and major/minor keys for polarity? Yes       No Is the language made up only of two-word utterances, with larger compositional meanings deduced from pragmatics? Yes       No Is it the ‘language’ of bee dance? Yes       No Does the language specify grammatical relations not in terms of agent and patient, but in terms of evolutionarily significant relationships (predator-prey, eater-food, enemy-ally, permissible-impermissible se