Patience Epps: On linguistic diversity and large-scale contact effects: the case of Amazonia. BLS Plenary, 2012.

Loans and Reconstruction

Our project began with a test of the idea that hunter-gatherer and agriculturalist languages show different rates of loans. Claims are contradictory here; on the one hand, work from social network structure suggests that hunter-gatherer languages might be more resistant to borrowing than agriculturalist languages; on the other, there are claims (particularly regional ones) that because of hunter-gatherer interaction with their neighbours, their languages show higher loan rates. We tested this claim in basic vocabulary with a sample of just over 120 languages. We found that results were highly dependent on local factors; moreover, loans in the hunter-gatherer languages in the sample were, on average, no higher than for other languages.

Does Lateral Transmission Obscure Inheritance in Hunter-Gatherer Languages? PLoS ONE 6(9): e25195. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0025195


Hunter-gatherer languages are stereotyped as having very small numeral systems; however, our work shows that numeral systems in these languages are variable, even when they have low limits. 

  • On numeral complexity in hunter-gatherer languages. (Forthcoming in Linguistic Typology, 16(1))
  • Numeral Systems in Australian Languages. (Slides from LSA presentation, 2011; paper currently under review)
  • One, two, three, brother: numeral etymologies and language contact in Amazonia. (under review)

Ethnobiological Nomenclature

Work by Brent Berlin, Cecil Brown, and others has revealed apparent patterns in 


Grammatical vs Lexical Change

Material Culture

Genetic Admixture and Language/Gene Coevolution


We held three workshops (UTexas, Arizona, and Virginia) to discuss the project with local linguists and anthropologists, and for grant personnel to meet and work on the project.

© grant personnel 2012