Lev Michael, Professor

Closed (1) Arawakan Comparative Linguistics: Phylogenetics and Reconstruction

Applications for Spring 2019 are now closed for this project.

This exciting project aims to significantly improve our understanding of the deep history of indigenous South America by developing a detailed model of the historical relationships among the languages of the Arawakan family, using both cutting-edge computational phylogenetic techniques and established methods of linguistic reconstruction. Using these approaches, it will be possible to infer the homeland of Proto-Arawakan, the ancestral language from which all modern Arawakan languages descended, and develop a model for the diversification of the family and the spread of the Arawakan peoples across South America and the Caribbean.

The Arawakan family is the largest linguistic family of South America, with members from Central America in the north, to Argentina in the south, and from the Atlantic coast of Brazil in the east, to the Andean foothills of Peru in the west. Despite its importance for understanding the deep linguistic and social history of indigenous South America, the comparative linguistics of this major family is still in its early stages, with major questions regarding the internal classification of this family yet to be answered. Over the last several years we have developed the most extensive lexical database ever assembled for this family, with data from over 70 languages, and we are now entering the phase of readying this data for analysis, and carrying out the various analyses required.


Under my supervision research apprentices will: 1) develop phonological representations for the lexical data we have already gathered, using orthographic representations and grapheme-phoneme mappings; 2) prepare this data for computationally-assisted cognate set construction; 3) hand-check cognate sets; 4) develop segmental alignments using these cognate sets, and from them, create correspondence sets; 5) reconstruct proto-sounds using these correspondence sets; and 6) develop sub-grouping proposals based on shared phonological innovations.

In the course of this work apprentices will develop the core skills for organizing and analyzing lexical data for historical analysis, using both phylogenetic and reconstruction techniques. These include strengthening understanding sof core phonological and historical concepts, learning to construct cognate and correspondence sets, developing abilities in phonological and lexical reconstruction, and learning to infer historical relationships between languages based on shared innovations.


Qualifications: Students need to have already completed Ling 100, with a grade of B+ or better, so that they have familiarity with the core concepts of phonological analysis and some familiarity with historical linguistics. It is desirable, but not required, for students to: 1) have intermediate reading ability or better in one or more of the following languages: Spanish, Portuguese, German, French; 2) have previously taken Ling 130 (Historical Linguistics), or be taking it concurrently.

Weekly Hours: to be negotiated