Graduate Student Position
Details of this position will be announced in September.
Rice undergrads and grads are invited to apply for research assistant positions on this grant. Details were sent to the relevant mailing lists. The jobs have also been advertised on RiceWork. See there for more information, or contact Claire.
About the project
(This section is under construction.) This grant is NSF BCS-0643517,
awarded to Claire Bowern (Rice University).
The earliest detailed records of Australia’s indigenous languages date
from approximately two hundred years ago, and therefore our only access
to the prehistory of Australia’s indigenous past is through reconstruction
in archeology and linguistics. While we know that humans have lived in
Australia for more than 40,000 years, we do not know how speakers of
the 250 currently attested languages came to live where they do today.
This project uses linguistic evidence to trace the history of Aboriginal
people in prehistoric times. Systematic similarities between words in
these languages can be used to reconstruct various properties of prehistoric
languages. These techniques will be used to determine the structure of
the Pama-Nyungan language family, which will shed light on prehistoric
Australia’s linguistic prehistory is important for several reasons.
It has been claimed that methods developed for Europe and the Americas
do not work in Australia. If true, such a finding would be highly important,
since these methods are based on properties of language change which
until now have been assumed to be universal. However, preliminary work
indicates that Australian languages show the same characteristics that
we find elsewhere. Small speech community size, widespread multilingualism,
and other factors have obscured relationships between these languages.
These languages are an excellent laboratory for modeling what language
change might have been like before the spread of agricultural communities.
If we are ever going to be able to model accurately what prehistoric
global language spread might have looked like, we need to understand
how it operated in Australia.