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International workshop on languages of hunter-gatherers
May 25, 2010
The workshop will bring together a group of international experts on languages spoken by hunter-gatherers living in diverse locations around the world - from the deserts in Africa to tropical rainforests in Malaysia. 'We want to promote international research and documentation of endangered languages and cultures, which is crucial to understanding human history and variation', says MPI researcher Asifa Majid, who organises the workshop together with Thomas Widlok (Radboud University Nijmegen) and Niclas Burenhult (MPI and Lund University, Sweden).
Data from desert to the arctic
The researchers will address central issues in linguistics, cognitive science and anthropology. 'We will explore similarities and differences in categorisation processes across languages, cultures and environments. We are particularly interested in the kinds of semantic categories that people share for domains like space, time, body, and biology. What categories do they have and how do they differ? We are looking at hunter-gatherers, because their subsistence patterns and mobile lifestyle involve particular types of interaction with the environment, be it desert, rainforest or the arctic. Do hunter-gatherers for instance use a left-right or a north-south orientation? All of the researchers have collected naturalistic data, but we have to systematically compare them to establish common patterns.'
Disappearing way of life
There is an urgent need for this kind of comparative research endeavour, the organisers conclude. Majid: 'These language communities are highly endangered. They form an amazing but rapidly vanishing opportunity to learn about our unique human abilities and diversity.'