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Lecture | Comparative Indo-European Linguistics (CIEL) Seminars

Relative chronology of sound changes: lessons from Avar-Andi-Dido

Friday 13 March 2020
Comparative Indo-European Linguistics (CIEL) Seminars
Matthias de Vrieshof 2


In language reconstruction, the most important technique that allows us to tackle time depth is the reconstruction of the sequence in which individual changes occurred. Linguists establish this sequence by applying logic. If change A generates the input of change B, change A logically precedes change B. If change A affects all branches of a language family and change B does not, change A most likely dates to the proto- or common stage while change B occurred later, when the family had started to break up. Etcetera.

The Avar-Andi-Dido subgroup of the East Caucasian language family, which I am in the process of reconstructing, holds a particular interest for linguists working on language families like Indo-European. While Indo-European, especially among its earlier stages, is characterized by massive loss of dialectal variety, East Caucasian preserves a rich legacy of the same. Small communities of speakers can be extremely resilient through deep time. It is not uncommon for a language to be spoken in a single small village.

My talk will present examples that illustrate how a rich record of preserved ancient dialectal divisions, which we find in Avar-Andi-Dido, affects the way in which we think about relative chronology.

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