The project aims to explore the possibilities of dating ancestral stages of language families by a systematic and careful study of the stability and replacement patterns of different types of linguistic data. Toward this aim, the project has chosen to look at the language families Indo-European (Eurasia) as well as Arawakan and Tupí (South America). The ability to date ancestral linguistic stages would be a revolutionary step forward for understanding language and population history, parallel to carbon-14 dating in archaeology. Even a less precise method than carbon-14 would be a significant achievement for linking ancestral linguistic stages to other disciplines such as archaeology, genetics and geoclimatology. Classic glottochronology, which assumes a constant rate of lexical replacement, has long been discredited. However, even if lexical replacement rates are not constant, they are also not totally random. Moreover, other aspects of language may show tighter regularity than lexicon since lexicon is amenable to conscious manipulation; indeed, word taboo is one of the reasons for accelerated lexical replacement, but so far there has been little research into grammatical chronology, which is an important aim of this project. Now, however, the time is ripe for a systematic investigation into linguistic dating. Far more data is available, and large linguistic databases have become practical to use. Similarly, methodological advances, often imported from biology, presently allow for a more thorough exploitation of the data.
Funding agency: Marcus and Amalia Wallenberg foundation (MaW 2017.0050)
Project period: 2018-2021