Growing a (Family) Tree: Evaluating the Na Dene-Yeniseian Language Family Hypothesis through Phylogeny
Swarthmore College. Dept. of Linguistics
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In historical linguistics, deep genealogies postulating far-flung"macro-families11 have been at once fascinating, thought-provoking, and highly controversial because they reach beyond the limits of standard reconstruction methods (Campbell 2004). Recent research on one such family, the Dene-Yeniseian family, gives a new take by weaving linguistic and anthropological arguments to envision the history of a language whose speakers moved between late-Pleistocene North America and Eurasia (Kari & Potter 2010, Sicoli & Holton 2014). In this thesis, I add to this small body of literature by modeling the phylogeny of this family, taking into account both the relationships between these families) modern languages and the evolutionary history behind them. I use the Bayesian modeling software BEAST to infer the relationships within a set of 199 cross-linguistic characters and produce a series of phylogenetic trees. I focus on maximizing interdisciplinary approaches by factoring divergence dates for subgroups within each family drawn from linguistic and anthropological research in order to, one, capture the set of calibrations and rate of change that represents the data most effectively; and, two, see more generally if and to what degree linguistic modeling is effective in capturing and reproducing known calibrations. My results show that the findings of archaeological research may be relatively effectively replicated through linguistic methods, indicating the potential cooperation of these two disciplines when they intersect-at those moments in prehistory when we can connect the migrations of language speakers and the divergence of languages.