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Linguistic Diversity and the First Settlement of the New World

Johanna Nichols
Language
Vol. 66, No. 3 (Sep., 1990), pp. 475-521
DOI: 10.2307/414609
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/414609
Page Count: 47
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Linguistic Diversity and the First Settlement of the New World
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Abstract

The oft-noted genetic and typological diversity of the languages of the New World is due not to accidents of history but to the operation of regular principles of linguistic geography. Four building blocks of a theory of linguistic diversity are presented here: a classification and measures of diversity, an account of the causes of diversity, measures of rates of differentiation, and means of estimating the age of a linguistic population. On the most conservative archeological view, the New World was first colonized some 12,000 years ago; on the received view, up to 20,000 years ago. But no high-latitude area like Siberia, Beringia, Alaska, or northern Canada could have contributed or transmitted the linguistic diversity to seed the New World in these time frames, and no single dispersing family could have given rise to the attested diversity in these time frames. The unmistakable testimony of the linguistic evidence is that the New World has been inhabited nearly as long as Australia or New Guinea, perhaps some 35,000 years. Genetic unity for 'Amerind' is incompatible with the chronology demanded by the linguistic facts.

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