[Lingtyp] 2nd, updated CfP: spatial patterns of language evolution

Rik van Gijn erik.vangijn at uzh.ch
Tue Oct 23 13:46:52 UTC 2018

(apologies for multiple postings)*


*Spatial Patterns of Language Evolution**

*Zurich, January 24, 2019


We are happy to announce Marco Túlio Pacheco Coelho as an invited 
speaker. Marco Túlio is a researcher at the Biocultural Diversity & 
Conservation lab at Colorado State University (USA) and at the 
Theoretical Ecology and Synthesis lab at Universidade Federal de Goiás 
(Brazil) where he uses methods of Biogeography, such as mechanistic 
simulation models, to investigate two fundamental facts about human 
diversity: why do humans speak so many languages and why are these 
languages so unevenly distributed across the globe.

Languages and linguistic properties spread in geographic space either by 
phylogeographic expansion (and fission) or contact. Phylogeographic 
expansion is the process by which a language evolves into several 
daughter languages, thereby losing and/or changing some properties of 
their ancestor. Contact is the process in which speakers of different 
languages interact, with the possible result of linguistic properties 
spreading from one language to another. The interplay of expansion and 
contact results in the current distribution of languages and linguistic 
properties in geographic space. Researchers have long studied this 
distribution to find patterns and relationships, and, ultimately, shed 
light on the underlying mechanisms of language evolution. Recently, this 
endeavor has gained considerable momentum thanks to the advance of 
quantitative methods from evolutionary biology.

We can loosely distinguish between two types of studies concerned with 
language evolution in space:

a)Reconstructing language evolution

Phylogeographic analysis aims to infer the expansion of language 
families in space and time. Researchers have, for example, reconstructed 
the most likely diffusion paths of Pama-Nyungan in Australia (Bouckaert, 
et al., 2018). Recently, quantitative studies have also focused on 
exploring the spread of linguistic patterns across phylogenies. A 
current study tracks the emergence of the British Isles as a linguistic 
area in North-Western Europe (Dedio, et al., forthcoming), i.e. a 
geographic region where languages share common properties that cannot be 
explained by common heritage or parallel development.

b)Exploring the interaction between space and language evolution

Studies of this type aim to show how spatial phenomena may shape and 
direct language evolution. The speed of the Bantu expansion in 
Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, has been shown to vary with land cover 
(Grollemund, et al., 2015). Moreover, environmental factors drive the 
distribution and diversification of languages in space and do so to a 
much stronger extent in food producing than in hunter-gatherer societies 
(Derungs, et al., 2018).

In spite of considerable progress, it remains unclear to what extent we 
can make generalizations with respect to the relationship between space 
and language evolution(Greenhill, 2015). In order to push the debate 
forward, we organize a workshop that brings together researchers from 
linguistics, geography, evolutionary biology and related disciplines 
interested in exploring language evolution in space.



*Invitation to submit*

We are especially interested in the following topics (but potential 
contributors should not feel restricted by them):

-Phylogeographic analysis, i.e. the spatio-temporal expansion of 
language families

-Language contact, i.e. the evolution of linguistic features in space 
across language families

-The mutual influence of space and language evolution, e.g. terrain, 
climate, trade routes or barriers to movement

-The relationship between linguistic features and spatial phenomena

-The coevolution of linguistic features and other (human) traits in 
space and time

*Submission Guidelines*

Abstracts (150-200 words) should be submitted as pdf to 
*splev.2019 at gmail.com* <mailto:splev.2019 at gmail.com>, by *November 15, 

Acceptance decisions will be communicated by***November 30, 2018*.

For further information please contact *peter.ranacher at geo.uzh.ch*.



Bouckaert, R. R., Bowern, C. & Atkinson, Q. D., 2018. The origin and 
expansion of Pama--Nyungan languages across Australia. /Nature Ecology & 
Evolution, /p. 1.

Dedio, S., Ranacher, P. & Widmer, P., forthcoming. /Evidence for the 
British Isles as a linguistic area. /

Derungs, C., Köhli, M., Weibel, R. & Bickel, B., 2018. Environmental 
factors drive language density more in food-producing than in 
hunter-gatherer populations. /Proceedings of the Royal Society of London 
B: Biological Sciences, /Volume 285.

Greenhill, S. J., 2015. The Routledge handbook of historical 
linguistics. In: C. Bowern & B. Evans, eds.:Routledge, pp. 557-578.

Grollemund, R. et al., 2015. Bantu expansion shows that habitat alters 
the route and pace of human dispersals. /Proceedings of the National 
Academy of Sciences, /Volume 112, pp. 13296-13301.

Dr. Rik van Gijn
University of Zürich
Dept. of Comparative Linguistics
Plattenstrasse 54
CH-8032 Zürich
0041-(0)44 63 42859

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