Language Diversity

Language diversity is of importance both from historical and from cognitive perspectives.  A trio of conferences on language diversity will address these issues and also the issue of what sorts of data and algorithms are relevant for the study of language diversity.  The conferences are sponsored by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences’ (KNAW). The first conference was held in Amsterdam in Dec. 2012 with the theme ‘Patterns of diversification and contact: a global perspective’, the second will be held in Groningen on July 18-20, 2013 with the theme ‘Patterns of macro- and micro-diversity in the languages of Europe and the Middle East. Computational Issues in Studying Language Diversity: Storage, Analysis and Inference’ and the third will be held in Leiden focusing on ‘Diversity and universals in language, culture, and cognition’.

The purpose of the conference series is to identify and coordinate the Netherlands’ research potential in this area;  including both historical and the cognitive dimensions; to sketch ties to neighboring disciplines such as archaeology, ethno-history, cognitive science, anthropology, population genetics, phylogenetics, and literary studies; to contribute further to the development of data-intensive techniques for studying language diversity; to focus the research agenda nationally and internationally, and to identify suitable partners abroad; and to communicate to the scientifically interested Dutch public about developments in this field.

The Groningen Conference on Computational Issues in Studying Language Diversity: Storage, Analysis and Inference

A lot is already known and available about the languages of Europe and the Mideast, including comparative dictionaries of entire language families, attempts at morphological and syntactic reconstruction, corpora of many languages at various stages of historical development (sometimes at great time depths), dialect atlases and dialect dictionaries, typological databases, and naturally, a good deal of archaeological, genetic and cultural information.  Some of this material is even available digitally. To-date researchers have studied various relations about the data, but their approaches and research question have varied, and they have normally had to invest a good deal of time in culling relevant information from databases, corpora and word lists designed for other purposes.  The challenge – both conceptually and computationally – is to coordinate the different sorts of information to address the historical and cognitive questions. This presupposes a serious interdisciplinary effort to transcend initial incompatibilities in methodology and data analysis traditions.  The research questions involve language classification with respect to genealogy, typology and areal influence; language contact and genetics; linguistic history and archaeology; and the sorts of data they can be brought to bear on these questions.

Pieter Muysken, Maarten Mous and John Nerbonne are organizing the conference series, and Nerbonne has the lead on the Groningen conference.

Pieter Muysken
Maarten Mous
John Nerbonne