Further information

For further questions, please contact:

Denise Kühnert

Your application

Please submit your application to kuehnert@shh.mpg.de. Candidates are requested to submit the application in English as a single pdf file including a Cover letter (explaining research experience and reason for interest in this project), curriculum vitae, a list of publications, copies of certificates, and names and contact information (email and phone) for up to three referees.

PhD and Postdoctoral position: The “phylodynamics” of language evolution

Project: The “phylodynamics” of language evolution

The Transmission, Infection, Diversification & Evolution Group (TIDE) led by Denise Kühnert is offering one PhD and one Postdoctoral position to begin on 01.06.2018

There is evidence of infectious diseases having had major effects on the course of history, mostly by directly diminishing population sizes or by causing people to flee from disease. For example, the expansion of Austronesian languages into Remote Oceania has been theorized to have been pushed by one of the plasmodia causing malaria infection. Testing such theories requires both, an understanding of the past pathogen dynamics and the cultural and linguistic evolution. The field of phylolinguistics has so far mainly been using methods that were developed for viruses or other pathogens.

The initial aim of this project is to develop, test and employ mathematical concepts to describe the tree-generating processes appropriate for language evolution. They will be based on birth-death processes, which are suitable to model language evolution as they can incorporate periods of constant growth or decline, stagnation, but also bursts and extinction events.

This project will be performed in close collaboration with the Department of Linguistic and Cultural Evolution, led by Professor Dr. Russell Gray.

Your tasks:  

  • Development of birth-death process based methods for the reconstruction of language phylogenies in a Bayesian framework.
  • Analysis of language families, such as the Austronesian and Austroasiatic language families, to test hypotheses about their origins and historic development.
  • Test dependence of language diversification on demographic dynamics and potential links to ancient infectious disease outbreaks.  

Your qualifications:

  • PhD position:
    • Master or equivalent in a quantitative discipline such as Computational Biology, Mathematics, Statistics, Computer Science, Physics.
  • Postdoc position: 
    • Have or are about to obtain a PhD degree in a quantitative discipline such as Computational Biology, Mathematics, Statistics, Computer Science, Physics.
    • Experience with phylogenetic methods
    • Strong research record  
  • Both:
    • Strong interest in language evolution
    • Experience in programming
    • Proficient English skills   

The overarching goal of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History is to explore the history of humans using state-of-the-art analytical methods. Scientists from different disciplines, such as genetics, linguistics, archaeology, anthropology and history are working together to answer fundamental questions about the biological and cultural evolution of man from the paleolithic until today, and they jointly develop innovative methods, in particular in the areas of genome sequencing, language documentation, bioinformatics and phylogeography.

We offer an interesting and responsible job in a competitive, dynamic and stimulating international research environment. The Postdoc position is for 2 years with the possibility of extension. Remuneration will follow the public service pay scale (TVöD), according to qualification and experience. In addition, social benefits are paid according to the regulations of the Civil Service. The PhD position is for 3 years and paid with 50% of E13 TVöD under a Max Planck PhD contract.  

The Max Planck Society is committed to employing more handicapped individuals and especially encourages them to apply. The Max Planck Society seeks to increase the number of women in areas where they are underrepresented and therefore explicitly encourages women to apply.

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