Reference Work Entry

Encyclopedia of Global Archaeology

pp 2739-2749

Farming-Language Dispersals: Principles

  • Paul HeggartyAffiliated withDepartment of Linguistics, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology Email author 
  • , David Beresford-JonesAffiliated withMcDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge

Introduction and Definition

Among various potential “windows on our past,” one rich seam of data is all too often overlooked: the linguistic record. Above all, much of the world is so dominated by just a handful of vast language lineages as to cry out for explanation. That explanation, moreover, can only lie in the same contexts and processes that shaped humanity’s cultural and population (pre)history more widely. Indeed, of all attempts to account for these broadest of patterns in the linguistic panorama, one of the most ambitious generalizations is the “farming-language dispersals hypothesis.” Most simply put, this proposes that many of the most significant language families – in both geographical range and speaker numbers – dispersed along with, and primarily thanks to, the spread of agriculture. If so, then the modern panorama of linguistic relationships and diversity across the world would in effect still reflect, at least on the very broadest scale, the ...

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