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Linguistic probes into human history

PhD ceremony:Mr F. Manni
When:July 06, 2017
Supervisors:prof. dr. ir. J. (John) Nerbonne, prof. dr. S. Bahuchet
Where:Academy building RUG
Linguistic probes into human history

Linguistic probes into human history

This thesis in linguistics includes five published articles and one study to appear, in which I review, test and use computational linguistic methods to classify languages and dialects consisting of lexical items – the sort of material that is generally readily available from linguistic atlases and databases.

To compare linguistic varieties and classify them, methods that lead to the computation of a linguistic distance matrix are used.

The studies reported respectively concern the classification of Dutch dialects from the Netherlands; languages and dialects from Spain; Bantu languages from Gabon, Tanzania and, finally, Turkic and Indo-Iranian languages spoken in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

In a multidisciplinary perspective aimed at providing a higher level of anthropological synthesis, linguistic diversity is used as a proxy for the cultural differences of corresponding populations and is then compared to the variability of family names (their number, frequency and geographic distribution) or to genetic differences based on molecular markers on the DNA.

The analysis of family names enables the depiction of migrations which have taken place in historical times, and, allows us to distinguish regions that have received many immigrants from those that have remained demographically more stable.

We conjecture that such migration patterns have influenced dialect and language contact. This is a novel perspective from which we may examine the effects of migration on language change, for example it appears that Spanish languages have remained lively because the regions where they are spoken have often be quite isolated demographically.