Claire Bowern receives NSF grant to study language and prehistory of Australia

September 12, 2014
Congratulations to Associate Professor Claire Bowern, who has received a three-year grant from the National Science Foundation. Her project, “Language as a Window on Prehistory,” seeks to expand scientific understanding of how language changes over time, and how language change interacts with other aspects of human society.
This grant enables Claire to continue to lead a growing historical linguistics research lab at Yale, staffed by Postdoctoral Associate Hannah Haynie and a group of graduate and undergraduate researchers. They use Australian Aboriginal languages as a case study for exploring the relationship between language change and society from as many different perspectives as possible. The continuing efforts of the lab build on previous work supported by the NSF as part of Claire’s “Pama-Nyungan Reconstruction and the Prehistory of Australia” CAREER grant, which funded the development of databases and tools that have opened many new avenues of linguistic study, and made this current work possible.
Projects that members of the lab will pursue in the coming year include applying computational phylogenetic methods to test theories of long-distance relationships between languages, using cutting-edge software to align a large corpus of audio oral histories with their linguistic transcriptions, and examining how semantics and lexification vary across languages. As knowledge of the nature of linguistic and cultural interactions is refined through this type of work, the aim is to advance and expand the body of methods and tools available to other researchers interested in linguistic and cultural prehistory around the world.
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