Research Focus Area
Evolution of Human Languages
Reconstruction of Proto-Khoisan
George Starostin, Russian State University for the Humanities
George Starostin's current research within the Evolution of Human Languages
project is centered around one of the more unique language families of
the world - Khoisan (or, formerly, Bushman-Hottentot) languages of South
Africa. While some important work on Khoisan languages has been done in
the past century, mostly in the descriptive and taxonomic area, not much
progress has been achieved in establishing regular phonological correspondences
between the main branches of Khoisan and reconstructing the phonological
and morphological system of Proto-Khoisan. This is partially due to a lack
of consistently well transcribed language data, but even more so to the
extreme complexity and uniqueness of Khoisan phonetics, primarily its high
reliance on the use of so-called "click" (injective) phonemes
which do not occur in any other language family.
The primary goal of the project is to systematize and classify all the
relevant data that can be acquired from present day sources on Khoisan
by creating a system of interrelated computer databases for the Northern,
Southern, and Central subbranches of Khoisan, with intermediate protolanguage
reconstrucrions for each, as well as for the isolated languages of Hadza
and Sandawe which may or may not be part of a very archaic Macro-Khoisan
family. At the same time, research is conducted into establishing a tentative
system of correspondences between these branches, which will later lead
to a stricter Proto-Khoisan reconstruction.
George Starostin's preliminary view of the Khoisan protosystem is that
of a highly complex, yet easily transmutable unity, with a very complex
series of phonetic changes independently occurring in each of the main
subbranches. Basic language data shows that Proto-Khoisan "click"
consonants could easily yield two and more reflexes in daughter languages
due to factors both understandable (influence of the following vowel, nasalisation,
etc.) and, as of yet, unexplainable. Further research will hopefully help
clarify most of these issues.