Research Focus Area
Evolution of Human Languages
Taxonomy and Genetic Relationships Between Indo-Pacific
Timothy Usher, Santa Fe Institute
The main object of this project is a better historical understanding
of the relations between the vast language family of Indo-Pacific languages.
Tim Usher has put together (in the form of several large electronic spreadsheets)
an impressive collection of material from most of these languages, sufficient
for a serious historic analysis of these relations.
So far, he has managed to resolve the consonantal correspondences of
the Halmaheran, South Bird’s Head, West Bomberai, Nimboran and Upper Tami
groups and made substantial progress on the Timor-Alor-Pantar, Bird’s Head,
East Bird’s Head, Mairasi-Tanah Merah, Kwerba, Tor, Pauwasi and Senagi
groups. This has resulted in the generation of citable protoforms along
with the resolution of a number of low-level classification issues and
the correction of erroneous dialect assignations found in the literature.
Altogether, these groups comprise the major western penninsulas of Irian
Jaya (Bird’s Head, Bomberai) and the northern half of mainland Irian Jaya,
and include some of the families whose classifications are most disputed
(to the extent there has been a debate at all). Tim has developed a workflow
system which exploit his pre-existing lexical databases with maximal efficiency,
greatly reducing the time needed to discern and support proposed corespondences.
The immediate goal of the project is to feasibly envision a preliminary
reconstruction of all New Guinean families for which there is sufficient
data. As correspondences are resolved and protoforms discovered, they are
checked against Tim's vast lists of Greenberg-style comparisons in order
to confirm or falsify previously proposed connections and to bring outcomparisons
to bear on family-level issues. Slowly but surely, these lists are taking
on the manner and reliability of an etymological dictionary, the ultimate
goal of this project. This improved dataset will provide the basis for
the definitive resolution of Indo-Pacific taxonomy at the highest levels,
as well as providing ample source material for the reconstruction of the
most ancient proto-languages.