Uto-Aztecan Language Research


For further reading - Accompanying Shelf Life article The Language Detectives

In another collaboration with AMNH colleague, Dr. Ward Wheeler (Curator, Invertebrate Zoology), Dr. Whiteley has been studying historical relationships among languages, beginning with Uto-Aztecan languages of Middle and North America, using genetic methods developed in the field of evolutionary biology.

Swadesh list


In 1971, a linguist named Morris Swadesh published a list of words most resistant to cross-cultural change. The list, now referred to as the Swadesh list (there are two primary versions, of 100 and 200 words), has been used to reconstruct genealogical relationships among the languages in a language family.

With the phylogenetic software POY, Whiteley and Wheeler systematically compare cognate words as sequences of sounds (phonemes). Where available, they also analyze grammatical (morphological and syntactic) data.

Their paper Historical Linguistics as a Sequence Optimization Problem: the Evolution and Biogeography of Uto-Aztecan Languages appeared in Cladistics (Early View 5-13-2014).

Supplementary Information:

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