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Quantitative modeling of historical-comparative linguistics: Unraveling the phylogeny of native South American languages

Objective

This project aims to uncover and clarify phylogenetic relationships between native South American languages. Very little is known about the historical development of the linguistic diversity in this part of the world, and more detailed insights will have a major impact not only on linguistics, but also on genetics, archeology, and cultural anthropology. The approach taken is to digitize available lexical information about the languages in question, and to develop new and innovative computer-assisted methods to quantify the analysis of this information. This quantification will be based on the techniques and experiences of the traditional historical-comparative method, and not use the Swadesh-style approach using wordlists. This novel quantitative approach makes it possible to process more data in a more consistent and faster manner, and as a consequence uncover more evidence for genealogical relations. The availability of more evidence is essential to push back the phylogenetic time-depth beyond the few thousand years to which historical linguistics is traditionally limited. A second key objective of this project is to transform historical-comparative linguistics from a primarily handcrafted scholarly endeavor, performed by individual researchers, into a quantitative and collaborative field of research, involving linguists, mathematicians and computer scientists alike. The project will build a truly interdisciplinary team to improve the interaction between linguistics and mathematics. In this way, not just historical linguistics will profit from methods and insights previously developed in mathematics and computer science, but the special requirements posed by language variation and language change will also reframe and further extend current phylogenetic methods.

Field of science

  • /humanities/history and archaeology/archaeology
  • /social sciences/sociology/anthropology
  • /natural sciences/biological sciences/biological morphology/comparative morphology
  • /natural sciences/biological sciences/genetics and heredity
  • /social sciences/sociology/anthropology/social and cultural anthropology
  • /humanities/languages and literature/linguistics
  • /natural sciences/mathematics
  • /humanities/languages and literature/languages - general

Call for proposal

ERC-2009-StG
See other projects for this call

Funding Scheme

ERC-SG - ERC Starting Grant

Host institution

PHILIPPS UNIVERSITAET MARBURG
Address
Biegenstrasse 10
35037 Marburg
Germany
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
EU contribution
€ 917 487,80
Principal investigator
Michael Alexander Cijsouw (Dr.)
Administrative Contact
Lois Woestman (Dr.)

Beneficiaries (2)

PHILIPPS UNIVERSITAET MARBURG
Germany
EU contribution
€ 917 487,80
Address
Biegenstrasse 10
35037 Marburg
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Principal investigator
Michael Alexander Cijsouw (Dr.)
Administrative Contact
Lois Woestman (Dr.)
LUDWIG-MAXIMILIANS-UNIVERSITAET MUENCHEN

Participation ended

Germany
EU contribution
€ 1 020 512,20
Address
Geschwister Scholl Platz 1
80539 Muenchen
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Administrative Contact
Monika Bernhardt (Ms.)