Quantitative study of cultural and language contact


Investigator: Gereon Kaiping (Postdoc)


Bottom-up research applying the historical comparative method on 400-item vocabulary data carried out in Marian Klamer's ESF-EuroBABEL project indicates that (a) The Papuan languages of Alor Pantar (AP) are mutually related and form a family with the Papuan languages of Timor; (b) Austronesian lexical borrowings can be recognised; and (c) Within the AP family we can form subgroups on the basis of shared sound changes.


Unresolved issues include: (a) What is the dispersal pattern of the Alor Pantar family, as attested by migrations of individual groups through time and space? (b) Can we reconstruct a set of ancestral cultural traits characteristic for the Alor Pantar family? (c) What are the exact lower-level affiliations and subgroupings within the family? (d) To what extent are lexical and structural similarities between the AP languages influenced by geographical closeness (contact)? (e) How can we detect words and structures that reflect such contact between languages that are lexically and typologically similar?


P5 addresses these issues by applying quantitative methods and implementing the resulting, new models on the data collected in P1-P2-P3-P4. It will also evaluate the results of the comparative research in  P1-P2-P3-P4, through a quantitative study of traces of linguistic history and ancestral culture. Addressing the question of what quantitative analysis can contribute to qualitative reconstruction, we focus on two research areas: (a) Tracing ancestral culture and expansion of AP languages, and (b) Applying structural phylogenetics to model the history of the AP family and its wider affiliations.


Tracing ancestral culture and expansion of AP languages. Linking a language family tree to cultural data, we can computer-generate the possible tree structures on a scale of most to least probable connection between language and culture. Subsequent assessment by the researchers determines which of the suggested possibilities make sense, and why.


Cultural traits that are salient for the AP group (to be verified in P1-P2-P3-P4) are expected to include: types of socio-political alliances between ethno-linguistically distinct groups, elite lineages, social hierarchy patterns, post-marital residence type, kin terminology, warfare, types of sacred artifacts (cf. the Database for Indigenous Cultural Evolution [DICE]). By linking cultural traits of groups to nodes, meaning languages, in the AP family tree, we can reconstruct which cultural traits are ancestral, and which are not. From this we can infer transition rates, and model the evolution of cultural traits in a family (Walker et al. 2012).


It will be crucial to connect reconstructed dispersals and ancestral culture for the AP family to what is known about Austronesian dispersals in the area. In turn, this will help to recognise possible Austronesian-Papuan hybridisation in specific regions, such as the Lamaholot area, and provide additional evidence proving or disproving an earlier – Papuan? – presence in that area.


Applying structural phylogenetics to model the history of the AP family. We will address the pressing need for methods to establish historical relations between Papuan groups that have no obvious lexical overlap. Beyond Papuan studies, linguistic and other, this bears on all situations where there is insufficient lexical evidence to support reconstruction. We will study lexical data in combination with a large set of structural features (i.e., combine lexical with structural phylogenetics) across six or more AP languages, to model historical relations within the family, and validate the qualitative proposals of P1. The lexical databases collected in P1-P2-P3-P4 will contain core lexicon, i.e. items that are least susceptible to borrowing, as well as words more likely to be borrowed (see P1). The list of ~200 structural features to be coded per language (cf. Reesink and Dunn 2012) will include features that are recognised as typical for the AP languages and can be contrasted with those that are typically Austronesian (AN) (Klamer et. al. 2008) (see Significance of location, material, and timing for some illustrations). Structural features cannot be used to claim or refute genealogical relationships between languages due to their limited design space and relative ease of diffusion. However, linking structural information with a node in the AP family tree constructed by the comparative method may indicate where hybridisation has taken place.


References Link

Project 5: Quantitative methods tracing ancestral culture and linguistic history

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Exploring the difference between linguistic borrowing and inheritance ...