Edinburgh Research Explorer

Digital methods in New-World language change: Words & sounds in older Mapudungun

Project: Funded ProjectResearch

Total award£90,000.00
Funding organisationOther
Funder project referenceECF-2017-057
Project websitehttps://benmolineaux.github.io/


Minority, non-European languages – such as indigenous American ones – are critically underrepresented in the literature on language change. This not only narrows our view of the historical interaction of peoples and languages predating European expansion, but also limits our understanding of linguistic change as a whole. In the absence of the hundreds of years of philological study available for Old World languages, digital methods emerge as ideal means for systematically compiling and exploring the available data for language change in the New World.
This project intends to provide the first digitally-based historical account for a language of the Americas. Its main output, the Corpus of Historical Mapudungun (CHM), will document and propose analyses for the diachrony of the sound- and word-structure of this South-American language. It will require the compilation, tagging, and parsing of the main body of early Mapudungun texts into units of meaning (morphemes) and sound (phones). This body of data will be accompanied by a ‘repository of sound changes’ accounting for the links between individual related forms over time, effectively writing the morphological and phonological history of the language from the bottom up. Such research represents a qualitative leap in the study of Mapudungun, while at the same time laying the groundwork for historical corpus methods to be applied to minority languages more broadly.

Plain English Description

Limited knowledge of the histories of minority, non-standard languages restricts our understanding of language change as a whole. This project proposes a first digitally-based account of change in Mapudungun, the endangered, ancestral language of the Mapuche people of Chile and Argentina. I will build a corpus of linguistic data spanning the 400-year textual record for Mapudungun, and then systematically identify changes in sounds and words therein.
The project advances historical corpus methods, applying them to New-World languages, thus creating transferable tools, and probing our knowledge of possible language change. It also provides speakers with an invaluable digital repository supporting revitalisation.