In keeping with the theme of the Institute, Universality and Variation, this course addresses language diversity and language change, and how they interact with one another. It investigates broadly the following questions:
(1) How many language families are there in the world? How do we know?
(2) How many language isolates are there in the world, and how can we investigate their history?
(3) What are the prospects for finding new language classifications and thus of reducing the ultimate number of independent language families? How might controversial proposals of distant genetic relationship be resolved?
(4) How many of the existing languages are endangered? What are the implications of this for linguistic diversity and the classification of languages? Can endangered languages undergo changes that are not possible in fully viable non-endangered languages? What are their implications for historical linguistics generally?
(5) What implications does the discovery of unusual or unique linguistic traits in recent documentation of endangered languages have for how we view universals, linguistic typology, and aspect of language change?
(6) How do language contact and diffusion affect views of linguistic diversity?
(7) What is the relevance, if any, of human genetics, the farming/language dispersal hypothesis, and related matters to language classification and linguistic diversity?
Students at any level of preparation in linguistics are welcome to register for this course, although it will be clearest for students who have had at least a solid introduction to general linguistics and some familiarity with the basic concepts of phonology/phonetics, grammar, and historical linguistics.