ICHL24 Panel: Computational and Phylogenetic Historical Linguistics

Workshop Panel at the 24th International Conference on Historical Linguistics (Australian National University in Canberra, Australia from July 1st-5th 2019.) Recent years have seen an influx of computational and phylogenetic methods into historical linguistics. These “phylolinguistic’’ approaches have been used to explore the origins and subgrouping of language families including Austronesian (Gray, Drummond, and Greenhill 2009), Bantu (Grollemund et al. 2015), Indo-European (Bouckaert et al. 2012; Chang and Michael 2014), Pama-Nyungan (Bowern and Atkinson 2012; Bouckaert, Bowern, and Atkinson 2018), Timor-Alor-Pantar (Robinson and Holton 2012) and Uralic (Honkola et al.

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The shape and fabric of human history.

I presented the following talk at the Bridging Disciplines: Evolution and Classification in Biology, Linguistics and the History of Sciences conference in Ulm. Simon J. Greenhill and Russell D. Gray. The shape and the fabric of human cultural history is the focus of two long-standing debates in linguistics and anthropology. The first concerns the extent to which human history is tree-like (its shape), and the second concerns the unity of that history (its fabric).

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Phylolinguistics: Tackling old questions with modern methods.

Last week I presented a talk to the School of Culture, History and Language at Australia National University on Phylolinguistics: The last few years have seen a wave of new computational phylogenetic approaches entering historical linguistics. The application of these computational methods to linguistics is perhaps “one of the most vibrant contemporary streams of comparative linguistics”. Whilst linguistics is not unfamiliar with computational methods, these new methods go far beyond the simplistic and flawed analyses of lexicostatistics or glottochronology.

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COOL8: The probability of proto-forms

Last week I presented a talk to the 8th International Conference on Oceanic Linguistics on the probability of protoforms: Many papers about language subgrouping make the argument that if a word form is present in two language subgroups, then it probably reflects their common proto-language. This fairly reasonable assumption has taken center-stage in the reconstruction of Proto-Central-Pacific and Proto-Oceanic, and subsequent inferences about these respective societies. In this talk I will introduce a method that calculates the actual probability that a given form reflects the proto-language.

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Bioinformatics Institute: Using phylogenetics to understand languages and cultures

On Wednesday October the 7th, I gave a talk to the Bioinformatics Institute on “Using phylogenetics to understand languages and cultures”: Languages are the archives of history. Their elements – such as lexicon and grammar – carry historical signal about the people who spoke these languages and their cultures. Biologists have developed a powerful set of statistical phylogenetic methods for answering questions about human prehistory using genetic data. Information from language, however, holds far greater potential for understanding our past.

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Applied Language Studies and Linguistics Seminar: Using phylogenetics to understand languages and cultures

On Wednesday, September 30th, I gave a Applied Language Studies and Linguistics Seminar on “Using phylogenetics to understand languages and cultures”: Languages are the archives of history. Their elements – such as lexicon and grammar – carry historical signal about the people who spoke these languages and their cultures. Biologists have developed a powerful set of statistical phylogenetic methods for answering questions about human prehistory using genetic data. Information from language, however, holds far greater potential for understanding our past.

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11th International Conference on Austronesian Linguistics: The Austronesian Basic Vocabulary Database

I just gave a talk to the 11th International Conference on Austronesian Linguistics entitled The Austronesian Basic Vocabulary Database: why databases are better than dictionaries: The basic comparative data on the languages of the world is often widely dispersed in hard to obtain sources. Here we outline how our Austronesian Basic Vocabulary Database (ABVD) helps remedy this situation by collating wordlists from over 550 languages into one web-accessible database. We describe the technology underlying the ABVD and discuss the benefits that a “bioinformatic” approach to data and databases can provide.

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Human Behavior and Evolution Society 2008: Pacific Settlement and Austronesian Languages

I will be talking about Pacific settlement and Austronesian languages at the Human Behavior and Evolution Society meeting next week in Kyoto, Japan: The settlement of the Pacific is one of the great chapters of human history. This region was settled by the Austronesian people during the last 10,000 years, eventually encompassing the region from Taiwan, to Hawaii, Easter Island (Rapanui), New Zealand, and Madagascar. Along the way, these people carried with them a distinctive “Lapita” culture and one of the largest language families in the world.

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NZ Phylogenetics Meeting 2008: Horizontal Transmission and Cultural Phylogenies

I’ll be talking at the NZ Phylogenetics Meeting this week on Horizontal transmission and cultural phylogenies: Phylogenetic tree thinking is beginning to revolutionise studies of linguistic and cultural evolution. However, linguistic and cultural traits are easily transmitted horizontally (“borrowed”) between cultures. Indeed, well over 95% of the words in the Oxford English Dictionary aren’t English. A loud and persistent debate has centered around the issue of borrowing and whether it invalidates cultural phylogenies or not.

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COOL7 – Language trees and the des langues et base de données du vocabulaire austronésien

Here’s the abstract of the talk I gave at the Seventh International Conference on Oceanic Linguistics (COOL7), in Noumea, New Caledonia, entitled Language trees and the des langues et base de données du vocabulaire austronésien (Language trees and the Austronesian Basic Vocabulary Database): Nombre de données linguistiques essentielles recueillies au fil des ans dorment dans des placards et ne sont pas accessibles à la communauté linguistique ou au public intéressé.

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