Linguistic Areas and Prehistoric Migrations

Monday 19 February 2024, 12:30 pm
PhD student
J.C. Collins MA
prof. dr. P.C. Muysken †, prof. dr. S.C. Levinson, prof. dr. D. Dediu
Faculty of Arts

This thesis explores using language structures, such as grammatical and phonological features, to understand language history and human migration patterns. The first study is on the history of lexical tone (the property of using pitch to differentiate words) in language families such as Niger-Congo and Sino-Tibetan, and a discussion of whether climate has a role in the development of tone, arguing that contact between families may be a sufficient explanation for the concentration of tonal languages in humid regions. The second study is a cluster analysis of languages in Eurasia using the World Phonotactics Database, which reveals significant interactions between unrelated languages in areas such as the Caucasus, India, and Southeast Asia. The third study presents original data on East Palaungic languages in Yunnan, China on variation in word order and basic vocabulary, and an analysis of this variation with reference to the varying number of nearby Tai speakers, suggesting that these languages have undergone change under influence of speakers of Tai-Kadai languages. The fourth study compares mitochondrial DNA lineages in Eurasia with the cluster analysis from the second study, arguing for a role in migrations of people between communities in creating phonological similarity between languages. 

Jeremy Collins (born 1987) obtained a BA(Hons) in Chinese at Wadham College, Oxford and MPhil in Linguistics from the University of Hong Kong in 2012, for which he received the Li Ka Shing Outstanding Research Student Award for best MPhil dissertation in the humanities. He worked in the Centre for Language Studies at Radboud University and the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen during his PhD from 2012 to 2016, and in the Glottobank Consortium as a designer of the Grambank database. He has worked in Hong Kong since 2018 in HSBC and other companies as a machine learning engineer, and is currently working as lead data engineer in Rida, a logistics company in Singapore.