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The 2022 Department of Linguistics Homecoming Lecture, presented by John T.M. “Jack” Merrill (Dartmouth ’11), Princeton University
Niger-Congo is by most counts the world’s largest language family, but there is no consensus on the structure of its family tree, or where Proto-Niger-Congo was spoken. In this talk, I address both of these topics using evidence from the ~40 Atlantic languages, a geographical grouping of Niger-Congo languages spoken in the northwest. While most existing hypotheses treat Atlantic as a unified subgroup of the family, this assessment has long been questioned. I argue that Atlantic is not in fact a single subgroup, but instead represents many distinct branches of the Niger-Congo family tree. Here I examine the lexical evidence for the genetic status of Atlantic, which has been the primary focus of previous hypotheses. I conclude that the most likely Niger-Congo family tree has multiple Atlantic groups as primary branches, and as such the protolanguage was likely spoken somewhere in the area where modern Atlantic languages are spoken.
Speaker Bio: Jack Merrill is a linguist with a focus on historical linguistics and languages of Africa. Jack has written and presented on the synchronic and diachronic analysis of noun class and consonant mutation systems, and has carried out fieldwork on the Sereer, Noon, and Kobiana languages. He graduated from Dartmouth College in 2011 with a major in Linguistics. He received his Ph.D. in Linguistics from UC-Berkeley in 2018 and is currently a lecturer in the Program in Linguistics at Princeton University.
This lecture is in-person only, and is open to the public.
Events are free and open to the public unless otherwise noted.