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

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.
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Principal Investigator

Michael Alexander Cijsouw (Dr.)

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)

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PHILIPPS UNIVERSITAET MARBURG

Germany

EU Contribution

€ 917 487,80

LUDWIG-MAXIMILIANS-UNIVERSITAET MUENCHEN

Germany

EU Contribution

€ 1 020 512,20

Project information

Grant agreement ID: 240816

Status

Closed project

  • Start date

    1 January 2010

  • End date

    31 December 2014

Funded under:

FP7-IDEAS-ERC

  • Overall budget:

    € 1 938 000

  • EU contribution

    € 1 938 000

Hosted by:

PHILIPPS UNIVERSITAET MARBURG

Germany