Evolution of Human Languages

An international project on the linguistic prehistory of humanity
coordinated by the Santa Fe Institute
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Languages of the World: Etymological Databases
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Research Focus Area

Evolution of Human Languages

Clarifying Genetic Relationship In The Americas

Sergei Nikolayev, Russian Academy of Sciences
Ilia Peiros, Santa Fe Institute

This area of EHL research has several objectives:

1. Compilation of electronic etymological databases for language groups of the Americas. Etymologies included in such databases must be supported by properly conducted phonological reconstructions and systematic search for cognates in daughter languages. Databases for Algonquian, Hokan, Penuti, Uto-Aztecan, Oto-Manguean, Chibchan, Maku, Tupi, and Maipuran are currently at various stages of preparation.

2. An in-depth comparative study of individual families and research on their ancient connections (genetic and areal) using two complementary approaches: lexicostatistics and search for phonetically/semantically similar morphemes. The first stage of this study allows to suggest that Salish, Wakashan, Hokan, Penuti, Uto-Aztecan, Mayan, and Mixe-Zogue are genetically related, forming a macrofamily provisionally titled "Amerind I". At present I. Peiros and S. Nikolayev are compiling a list of similar morphemes in these languages and identifying major phonological correspondences. It is not known yet what other families may belong to this ancient taxon, but it is already clear that the proposed entity is not identical to J. Greenberg's "Amerindian" super-family, since it decidedly excludes, for example, the Algonquian languages.

3. Clarification of the connections of Native American languages with the languages of the Old World. We already have some indications that "Amerind I" might constitute a part of the proposed "Borean" super-superfamily, but further investigation is required.