Department of Middle Eastern Studies
Department of Middle Eastern Studies

Schrödinger’s Sound Change: The Interplay of Inheritance and Borrowing in Related Languages

with Danny Law, Associate Professor, UT Austin

Tue, October 1, 2019 | RLP 4.716

3:00 PM

Schrödinger’s Sound Change: The Interplay of Inheritance and Borrowing in Related Languages

This paper will use the Mayan language family as an extreme illustration of the superpositioning of conflicting possible phylogenies in situations of intensive contact due to contact between related languages. In spite of extraordinary amounts of contact within the family, there is fairly general consensus among Mayanists about its internal subgrouping, based primarily on shared sound changes. However, recent work on areal diffusion of phonological innovations has identified other sound changes, which in most cases are completely regular in the languages which have them, and which have been identified as contact-induced changes largely because their distribution violates the traditional subgroups. Of course, another interpretation of these innovations is that they are inherited; that the traditional subgrouping of Mayan is wrong; and that it was the traditional subgroup-defining sound changes that were areally shared. While I ultimately will argue that the evidence supports the traditional family tree, the Mayan case highlights the inextricability of historical reconstruction and language contact when investigating cases of intensive linguistic interaction between related languages.

Sponsored by: the Department of Middle Eastern Studies and the Department of Linguistics

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