Areal Features and Linguistic Reconstruction in Africa

Larry Hyman
UC Berkeley

Sharon Rose
UC San Diego

The international workshop featured UC faculty and students as well as European and African scholars at Berkeley on March 25-26, 2016. The major issue focused on the relation between shared “areal features” and the reconstruction of proto languages. While it is well known that languages can share features because they have been in contact, there has been relatively little detailed work in Africa (given the lack of written historical records and poor documentation of so many African languages, many of which are endangered). As a result there have been overgeneralizations which, worse yet, have been cited to support unrealistic historical scenarios and linguistic reconstructions. For each of the areal features proposed there are important exceptions which directly shaped our key question: How can or should we exploit areal phenomena when examining linguistic reconstruction in Africa—and by extension, elsewhere in the world?