Determining the Historical Relationships of the Sino-Tibetan Languages

Damian Satterthwaite-Phillips, PhD Candidate, Anthropology Department,Stanford University

The Sino-Tibetan language family is one of the largest language families in the world, roughly on par with Indo-European both in terms of number of speakers and geographic distribution. However, unlike Indo-European, linguists remain largely ignorant of the relationships between the Sino-Tibetan languages. Determining these relationships is essential groundwork for linguistic theory, and also provides some of the best data for reconstructing prehistoric migrations and cultural and technological diffusion.

This talk will focus on the development of new methods for inferring the historical relationships between language, with a special emphasis on problems unique to Sino-Tibetan languages. The talk will first discuss methods for quantifying the probability that words are cognate in different languages (that is, derived from a common ancestral language). Second, given that cognate forms are determined, methods for inferring the phylogeny or "family tree" will be discussed.

Monday, April 26, 2010 | 12:00 pm — 1:05 pm
Building 50 - Room 51A Conference Room, Main Quad