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SYNAPSE Zoom Seminar: Language Diversification Through a Biogeography Lens, Hannah Haynie, 28 Sept

Australian National University, Outreach, SYNAPSE

Date: 26 August 2020

SYNAPSE Zoom Seminar: Language Diversification Through a Biogeography Lens

Speaker: Dr Hannah Haynie, University of Colorado Boulder

When: 28 Sept 2020, 9am-10am

Where: This is an online event and will be hosted via Zoom; Login details for the Zoom event will be included in your Eventbrite registration email

Registration via Eventbrite:


Linguistic diversity has attracted scholarly attention throughout the history of the field. Yet many questions remain unanswered about language diversification, and especially the interaction of processes across multiple spatio-temporal scales that creates patterns of macrodiversity out of microvariation. Here I discuss the modeling of language diversity as a facet of human biogeography, and what this approach can reveal about one component of language diversification, namely the influence of physical and ecological conditions on linguistic processes.

At a small spatial scale, geographic patterns of language diversity reflect variation in language use by speakers and the emergence of linguistic boundaries from this variation. At a large spatial scale, we typically characterise the geography of language diversity in terms of the variety of languages, families, or linguistic features found in an area. The physical environment has been invoked as a proximal influence on language variation at a small scale, and as a distal cause of language diversity patterns at a large scale. I examine ideas about environmental impacts on language diversification at these two scales using test cases from North America.

Differences within and across languages of the Eastern Miwok clade in California reflect the aforementioned linguistic microvariation. I examine the role of isolation-by-distance in the generation of language and dialect boundaries among varieties of these languages, explore the characterisation of distance in human communities, and discuss how model results reveal the impacts that geography and environmental conditions do, and do not, have on language diversification.

At a continent scale, the number of languages per area is a very basic measure of language diversity. Numerous theories propose causal links from physical and ecological factors to spatial patterns in this language diversity. I discuss collaborative work to develop more sophisticated tests of these hypotheses as they relate to the language diversity of North America, focusing on the non-stationarity of links between the environment and language diversity.

I conclude with discussion of the challenge of bridging the gaps between the scales at which we typically study language diversity, and how integrating additional linguistic, cultural, and historical information with spatially explicit modeling may enhance our understanding of diversification processes that link micro- and macro-scale patterns.


Dr. Hannah Haynie is an Assistant Professor of Linguistics at the University of Colorado Boulder. Hannah’s research focuses on exploring language diversification, language histories, and typological diversity in the context of space, time, ecology, and culture. She takes a special interest in languages of North America and in mining the treasures of language archives.

This seminar is part of SYNAPSE: The CHL trans-disciplinary seminar series

  • Australian Government
  • The University of Queensland
  • Australian National University
  • The University of Melbourne
  • Western Sydney University