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Comparative Oceanic Linguistics (CoOL)

The Oceanic languages make up one of the largest subgroups of the Austronesian language family, the second biggest language family in the world. These 600+ language varieties span the entire Pacific Ocean – from Hawai'i to New Zealand, Tobi (Palau) to Rapa Nui. Due to the high number of languages spoken by widely varying speech communities over such a vast area, the Oceanic subgroup raises critical questions about linguistic diversity, language evolution, language contact, and language development.

The CoOL project responds to these questions by combining methods of classic comparative historical linguistics, computational linguistics, and sociolinguistics to reconstruct the Oceanic past and to explore how high mobility, overlapping migrations, and complex interactions have impacted language histories.

Ongoing work includes revising the classifications of Southern Oceanic and Polynesian languages, investigating the magnitude and causes of variation in linguistic diversification rates, modelling the evolution of linguistic disparity, identifying linguistic signals of early contact between speakers of Oceanic and non-Oceanic languages, discovering the source(s) and timing of the Polynesian Outlier westward migrations, and reconstructing linkages and dialect networks in the break-up of Proto Oceanic.

Emae, Cook Reef, and Makura (Vanuatu). Zoom Image
Emae, Cook Reef, and Makura (Vanuatu).
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