This is an NSF-funded project in the Human and Social Dynamics program, running from September 2008 to Feb 2013.

We are studying how the languages of hunter-gatherer groups have changed and spread, both in recent history and the prehistory of the last 10,000 years. Much attention has been paid to the study of language in agricultural societies, but our goal is to study language in various societies that subsist on hunting and gathering. We  study the languages of hunter-gatherers in three distinct regions: the stretch from Mexico to Alaska emcompassing both Uto-Aztecan and Athapaskan languages, the northwestern Amazonian region, and northwestern Australia.

Languages are evolving systems which we can use to make inferences about the past, not only about the languages themselves and their change and spread, but also about the environmental and social conditions and changes in prehistory, in richer detail than provided by other prehistoric disciplines such as archeology alone. This project combines work in genetics, linguistics, anthropology, and archaeology to throw light on these questions. In particular focus in this project is the relationship between diachronic linguistics and biological anthropology and genetics.

Our study tackles the problems with hunter-gatherer language spread imposed by popular theories of language spread as related to agricultural development. We will also research genetic and linguistic links in the case studies.

Culture, biology and language vary independently but are also clearly connected in various ways in particular times and places. The prime concern in this project is to track the changes in particular groups of humans and their cultures and languages through time and space using evidence from socio-cultural, biological, archeological and linguistic anthropology simultaneously. We are looking at particular language families and mutual influences between these and neighbors in areas, then factor in how this meshes with genetic data with the aim of developing a more general model of human dynamics. Within the linguistic data we also identify particular fields of vocabulary that can tell us about peoples? relation to their environment and their social organization at different periods. This together with archaeology and socio-cultural anthropology/ethnology adds to the models we develop. We have put together a team which is adept at contributing to this kind of interdisciplinary endeavor and which also has great expertise in the regions we are investigating.


"Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation."

© grant personnel 2012