A family tree for the world’s languages

To date, linguists have worked with twigs or branches off the great tree of languages, focusing on unconnected families of languages. However to truly understand the fascinating story of humanity's cultural history, we need to go to the roots to trace these languages further back and connect them.

We have pioneered the application of phylogenetic tools to language and have built robust phylogenies for some important language families. The stage is now set for a much more ambitious project: a global phylogeny of languages.

We are constructing large-scale comparative databases of language information from many of the world's languages. This new global database will subsume existing databases in both the scale and quantity of data bringing linguistics into the “big data” era.

We will investigate new cutting edge Bayesian phylogenetic and network methods drawn from evolutionary biology and adapt them to language evolution. This will help us to push the time-barrier back as far as possible – 15,000 to 20,000 years or even further – to provide an integrated understanding of humanity's linguistic heritage.

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