Evolutionary dynamics of language systems

No Comments

A new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science studies the rates of change between grammar and vocabulary in 81 Austronesian languages and finds that grammatical changes in language differ much quicker. The paper suggests a more nuanced reading of language evolution is needed in order to trace their movement in time.

Understanding how and why language subsystems differ in their evolutionary dynamics is a fundamental question for historical and comparative linguistics. One key dynamic is the rate of language change. While it is commonly thought that the rapid rate of change hampers the reconstruction of deep language relationships beyond 6,000–10,000 y, there are suggestions that grammatical structures might retain more signal over time than other subsystems, such as basic vocabulary. In this study, we use a Dirichlet process mixture model to infer the rates of change in lexical and grammatical data from 81 Austronesian languages. We show that, on average, most grammatical features actually change faster than items of basic vocabulary. The grammatical data show less schismogenesis, higher rates of homoplasy, and more bursts of contact-induced change than the basic vocabulary data. However, there is a core of grammatical and lexical features that are highly stable. These findings suggest that different subsystems of language have differing dynamics and that careful, nuanced models of language change will be needed to extract deeper signal from the noise of parallel evolution, areal readaptation, and contact.

Source: Evolutionary dynamics of language systems

See also:

Birthplace of Austronesians is Taiwan, capital was Taitung: Scholar

No Comments

via Taitung News, 06 September 2017:

A growing number of scholars from various fields both domestically and abroad are coming to the conclusion that Taiwan is the birthplace of the Austronesian people and language family, and Academia Sinica scholar Liu I-chang (劉益昌) has taken this a step further by proposing that the nexus of this ancient culture 4,000 years ago was Taitung, reported CNA.

Liu yesterday participated in an experiment which demonstrated the seaworthiness of a replica of an ancient Amis bamboo raft that the indigenous Taiwanese tribe may have been capable of building 4,000 years ago. The boat was built based on records of such vessels prior to Japanese colonization in Taiwan and similar craft found in the Philippines and Vietnam half a century ago.

Source: Birthplace of Austronesians is Taiwan, capital was Taitung: Scholar | Taiwan News

Rice in Madagascar point to Southeast Asian origin

No Comments
Excavations in Madagascar. Source: ABC Science 20160531

A new paper in PNAS describes the first tangible evidence that Madagascar was colonised by Southeast Asians who probably spoke an Austronesian language. Charred rice and mung beans found in Madagascar are slightly older than their first appearance in East Africa.

Excavations in Madagascar. Source: ABC Science 20160531

Excavations in Madagascar. Source: ABC Science 20160531

Ancient crops provide first archaeological signature of the westward Austronesian expansion
PNAS, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1522714113

Ancient rice ‘first evidence’ Madagascan ancestors crossed Indian Ocean from South-East Asia
ABC Science, 31 May 2016

Abstract:

The Austronesian settlement of the remote island of Madagascar remains one of the great puzzles of Indo-Pacific prehistory. Although linguistic, ethnographic, and genetic evidence points clearly to a colonization of Madagascar by Austronesian language-speaking people from Island Southeast Asia, decades of archaeological research have failed to locate evidence for a Southeast Asian signature in the island’s early material record. Here, we present new archaeobotanical data that show that Southeast Asian settlers brought Asian crops with them when they settled in Africa. These crops provide the first, to our knowledge, reliable archaeological window into the Southeast Asian colonization of Madagascar. They additionally suggest that initial Southeast Asian settlement in Africa was not limited to Madagascar, but also extended to the Comoros. Archaeobotanical data may support a model of indirect Austronesian colonization of Madagascar from the Comoros and/or elsewhere in eastern Africa.

News story here; download the article here.

Archaeogenetics paints a more complex picture of the Austronesian expansion

No Comments

A detailed study of DNA of Pacific Islanders finds that their mitochondrial DNA were present in Island Southeast Asia from an earlier period than the so-called Austronesian expansion, and suggests a more complex picture of how humans migrated into the Pacific.

Resolving the ancestry of Austronesian-speaking populations
Soares et al.
Human Genetics, DOI 10.1007/s00439-015-1620-z

New research into the origins of the Austronesian languages
Eureka Alert, 28 January 2016

There are two very different interpretations of the prehistory of Island Southeast Asia (ISEA), with genetic evidence invoked in support of both. The “out-of-Taiwan” model proposes a major Late Holocene expansion of Neolithic Austronesian speakers from Taiwan. An alternative, proposing that Late Glacial/postglacial sea-level rises triggered largely autochthonous dispersals, accounts for some otherwise enigmatic genetic patterns, but fails to explain the Austronesian language dispersal. Combining mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), Y-chromosome and genome-wide data, we performed the most comprehensive analysis of the region to date, obtaining highly consistent results across all three systems and allowing us to reconcile the models. We infer a primarily common ancestry for Taiwan/ISEA populations established before the Neolithic, but also detected clear signals of two minor Late Holocene migrations, probably representing Neolithic input from both Mainland Southeast Asia and South China, via Taiwan. This latter may therefore have mediated the Austronesian language dispersal, implying small-scale migration and language shift rather than large-scale expansion.

Paper is open access, downloadable here.

The prehistoric links between Taiwan and the Philippines

No Comments
The Tsou Tribe of Taiwan. Source: Philippine Inquirer 20150406

A feature describing the prehistoric and modern links between the indigenous tribes of Taiwan and the Philippines.

The Tsou Tribe of Taiwan. Source: Philippine Inquirer 20150406

The Tsou Tribe of Taiwan. Source: Philippine Inquirer 20150406

Taiwan’s ‘rock star’ tribal folk share same ancestry with Filipinos
Inquirer, 06 April 2015

In communities of the indigenous Amis tribe across Taiwan, locals say lima for five, pito for seven and mata for eye, just like Filipinos. In southern Taiwan’s Alishan mountain, the Tsou tribe calls the community’s meeting hut a kuba, strikingly similar in design to the Philippines’ kubo.

Whether in language, architecture or way of life, links among indigenous peoples of the Philippines and Taiwan are undeniable, with both sides tracing their ancestry to the Austronesian migrations across the Pacific Islands thousands of years ago.

The ties are ever apparent as Taiwan’s indigenous groups continued to reemerge, a revival seen over the last three decades. Once neglected and kept to themselves, Taiwan’s tribal peoples have now become rock stars.

Today, Taiwan’s 540,000 indigenous peoples—a two percent segment of the total 23 million—are prominent in Taiwanese daily life, from billboards and stage shows to their own television stations, newspapers and even rap albums.

With this rise came the urge to reach out to their Austronesian brothers and sisters, eager to have not just their history and ancestry as a common ground, but also a shared future.

Taiwan officials and scholars believe prehistoric ties between Philippine and Taiwanese indigenous groups provide a window where the two sides may pursue stronger relations, despite occasional irritants.

Full story here.

Wednesday Rojak #66

No Comments

Catching up on a month’s worth of rojak, so some of the stories may be a little dated. Today’s assortment takes us to the ongoing culture war between Malaysia and Indonesia, the origin of the Komodo Dragon (no, it hasn’t gone to Malaysia), and Java Man’s eating habits (no, they didn’t eat at Malaysia either).
Orchestre de gamelan (Musées de Dahlem/Berlin)
photo credit: dalbera Read More

Expedition to sail the Philippine seas in ancient watercraft

No Comments

A Filipino expedition is preparing to navigate the Philippine seas using an ancient reconstructed boat type called the Balanghay.  This sailing of ancient maritime routes using centuries old technology isn’t new; Thor Heyadhal did it in his Kon-tiki experiment back in 1947 when he sailed from Peru to the Tuamoti Islands in the pacific (although the consensus is that migration to South America came from the west, i.e. Asia, and not the other way around); and more recently the Lapita Voyage by two archaeologists from Durham University will attempt to trace the migration routes of the Austronesians using traditional Polynesian boats.

An ancient journey retraced
Business Mirror, 21 May 2009
Read More

Wednesday Rojak #53 – Lego and archaeology

5 Comments

This edition of rojak is an eclectic mix of tantalizing speculations about the hobbit’s role in linguistics, videos from Java and lego archaeology.

78/365 - Boys will be boys
photo credit: kennymatic
Read More

Language analysis shows possible trajectory of Austronesian expansion

No Comments

Our understanding of the recent expansion of the Austronesian-speaking language groups out of Taiwan and into Southeast Asia and Polynesia is enhanced by a new paper out in Science, which argues through the analysis of 400 Austronesian languages that the Austronesian expansion occurred in pulses, which were correlated to the development of new technologies and social innovations.

Language Phylogenies Reveal Expansion Pulses and Pauses in Pacific Settlement
Science, 23 January 2009

Austronesian Basic Vocabulary Database

Pacific people spread from Taiwan

Science Daily, 22 Jan 2009
Read More

Migration in Southeast Asia: It's the other way around!

No Comments

New genetic-level studies on Southeast Asian populations throw up new ideas about how humans migrated and populated this region – it may well turn out that the Austronesian expansion wasn’t as big a deal as it was made out to be.

New Research Forces U-turn In Population Migration Theory
Science Daily, 26 May 2008
Read More