2022-08-06

New Paper on the History of Uto-Aztecan Languages

I am very glad to announce that a study on Uto-Aztecan languages, led by Simon J. Greenhill and Hannah Haynie (with Robert Ross, Angela Chira, Lyle Campbell, Carlos Boter, Russell D. Gray, and myself) has now been accepted for publication in Language. The study will appear officially in 2023, but a preprint has now already been shared online, which can be accessed here.

The Uto-Aztecan language family is one of the largest language families in the Americas. However, there has been considerable debate about its origin and how it spread. Here we use Bayesian phylogenetic methods to analyze lexical data from 34 Uto-Aztecan varieties and 2 Kiowa-Tanoan languages. We infer the age of Proto-Uto-Aztecan to be around 4,100 years ago (3,258 - 5,025 years), and identify the most likely homeland to be near what is now southern California. We reconstruct the most probable subsistence strategy in the ancestral Uto-Aztecan society and infer no casual or intensive cultivation, an absence of cereal crops, and a primary subsistence mode of gathering (rather than agriculture). Our results therefore support the timing, geography, and cultural practices of a northern origin, and are inconsistent with alternative scenarios.

My own work in this study consisted in the design of specific methods that help to evaluate to which degree the manually annotated cognate sets would differ from automatically computed ones. Given that such an evaluation has not been done so far in such detail, I hope that we can apply this method in other cases in the future.