Phylogenetics of kinship

[Update: materials are now available at pamanyungan.sites.yale.edu/kinship]

I am presenting work at the upcoming LSA meeting with a former undergraduate student and a postdoc (Amalia Skilton and Hannah Haynie). We have been working on kinship structures in Australian languages, using a combination of the comparative method and phylogenetic trait analysis.

The basic idea is that we can use our hypotheses of family tree relationships among Australian languages to reconstruct aspects of linguistic and cultural systems. In this case, we’re using the structure of sibling systems; that is, how many distinctions speakers of different languages make when referring to siblings. English just has two basic terms: ‘brother’ and ‘sister’; Bardi, however, has three terms: oombarn for older brother, bola or babili for ‘younger brother’, and marrir for ‘sister’ (Note that the Bardi system is asymmetrical, with two terms for brothers but only one for sisters.) Yan-nhangu also has a three-term system, but their system has a distinction for ‘older brother’ (waawa) vs older sister (yapa), but one term for ‘younger sibling’ (yapayapa). There are four fairly common systems in Australian languages (two, a four-way system and the Yan-nhangu-type three-term system, are the most common).

We reconstructed the sibling terms probabilitistically and then compared them to reconstructions of kinship lexical items, using the comparative method. We found that where the terms could be reconstructed, there was a great deal of congruity between the probabilistic state reconstruction and the comparative method reconstruction. However,

This sort of work isn’t well motivated for all systems. For example, it would not make a lot of sense to work on phoneme inventories in this way, because the inventories do not change independently of the lexical items in which they appear. That is, just because two languages both have a phoneme /p/, it doesn’t necessarily mean that those /p/s are “cognate” (because /p/ in one language could be cognate with /w/ in another, for example).

Filed under: conferences, fieldwork, Historical, language documentation
Source: Anggarrgoon

Anggarrgoon at the LSA

I’ll be at the annual meeting of the LSA in Minneapolis, presenting work from my lab. I have a poster with Emily Gasser in the plenary poster session on Friday morning, and one with Hannah Haynie and Amalia Skilton in the poster session on Saturday. Also on Friday, in one of the 10:30-12:00 sessions, I’m presenting recently work on sound symbolism and Australian languages with Hannah Haynie. Handouts will be available on this blog after the conference.

Filed under: Bardi
Source: Anggarrgoon

Ozpapers update

I maintain ozpapers.wordpress.com, which provides references to recent publications on Australian languages. I’ve recently gone through the backlog of draft posts, so expect to see more activity on the site over the next few weeks. Suggestions for papers to post are welcome at any time.

Filed under: Other
Source: Anggarrgoon