Hunter-Gatherers and Language Change

Sunday, February 20, 2011: 1:00 PM-2:30 PM
102B (Washington Convention Center )
For the vast majority of human history, people have not lived in cities supported by agricultural food sources and reliant on monetary economies. However, most models of language shift, spread, and change have been developed with Neolithic farming dispersals in mind and have either discounted or ignored language spreads by hunter-gatherers. This symposium examines anecdotal (but nonetheless widespread) claims in the literature regarding the properties of languages spoken by hunter-gatherer communities and the linguistic outcomes of hunter-gatherer groups' interactions with their neighbors. The methodologies cut across linguistics, anthropology, archeology, and evolutionary biology. Current findings in the domain of language indicate that hunter-gatherer language contact patterns are diverse and that some of them replicate the patterns of dominant contact that are reminiscent of colonial interactions between indigenous groups and colonizers. That is, we may see differences in language contact outcomes between hunter-gatherers and agriculturalists, not because hunter-gatherer language contact is different, but because agriculturist language contact is more uniform in outcome. Likewise, systematic study of features of hunter-gatherer languages (such as flora/fauna, numeral systems, and basic vocabulary) is revealing a much greater diversity than would be expected from the previous literature.
Claire Bowern, Yale University
Patrick McConvell, Australian National University
Loans in Hunter-Gatherer Basic Vocabulary
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