Historical linguistic and demographic reconstruction
A multi-scale integrated approach in Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia
Sean Downey (UCL/University of Arizona) and Peter Norquest (University of Arizona) are undertaking research on the effects of community-level language interactions on prehistoric migration patterns in Nusa Tenggara, a large region in eastern Indonesia.
The history of this region remains obscure because contact between Papuan-speakers and Austronesian-speakers (circa 4,500BP) has since obscured many of the language features historical linguists typically use to reconstruct migrations. Recent developments in computational linguistic can help overcome some of these obstacles, and the researchers will improve these methodologies to include both local and regional-level scales of analysis.
The researchers will investigate the relationship between community-level and regional language patterns by analysing a database of words collected from numerous locations across Nusa Tenggara. Two computational analyses will be used, each proven accurate at a different spatial scale, and these will be complemented by the more traditional “comparative method” in which a trained historical linguist manually classifies words based on their phonological differences. The results of these analyses are expected to shed light on how speech interactions among men, women, and children in neighbouring communities have conditioning effects on the language patterns that are observed in the wake of large-scale demographic transitions.
The research is significant because it will clarify a poorly understood aspect of the last great human migration: the Austronesian expansion from Mainland China into Indonesia and ultimately the colonization of island across the Pacific Ocean. The methodology for integrating computational language analyses across scales that will be developed during the project will be applicable for reconstructing the demographic history of indigenous populations where historical records are unavailable.
- Norquest, P., S.S. Downey, L. Asplund, J.S. Lansing In prep. A historical reconstruction of Proto-Sumba.
- J. Stephen Lansing, Murray P. Cox, Sean S. Downey, Herawati Sudoyo In review. An ongoing Austronesian expansion in Island Southeast Asia. Molecular Biology and Evolution. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology.
- Downey, S.S. B. Hallmark, M.P. Cox, P. Norquest, and J.S. Lansing 2008 Feature-Sensitive Reconstruction of Language Relationships: Using the ALINE Distance in Historical Linguistics. Journal of Quantitative Linguistics 15(4). Also working Paper of the Santa Fe Institute #07-08-021.
- Lansing, J.S., M.P. Cox, S.S. Downey, B. Hallmark, T.M. Karafet, P. Norquest, J. Schoenfelder, H. Sudoyo, and M. F. Hammer 2007 Coevolution of languages and genes on the island of Sumba, eastern Indonesia. PNAS 104(41):16022-16026.
- National Science Foundation (USA)