Centre for Comparative Studies and Phylogenetics
The Centre for Comparative Studies and Phylogenetics is a research unit whose staff is engaged in research on comparative historical linguistics and genetic relations between the world’s language families. The backbone of the Centre consists of specialists that represent the so-called Moscow School of Comparative Studies—a direction in historical linguistics that combines traditional (“Neogrammarian”) methodology with advanced research in the field of both short-range and long-distance relationships of languages, focused on the scientific reconstruction of the most ancient linguistic stages. The foundations of the Centre were laid back in the 1990s, when the Moscow School was informally supervised by Dr. Sergei Anatolievich Starostin (Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences), the most prominent and internationally recognized Russian authority on historical linguistics who had authored a number of etymological dictionaries for linguistic families of the world; after his untimely death in 2005, the school went on to be managed on a collective basis by his colleagues and students.
Within the Centre, systematic work is under way to compile computer databases, etymological dictionaries, and comparative descriptions for linguistic families of Eurasia (Indo-European, Ural, Altai, Dravidian, Sino-Tibetan, etc.), Africa (Khoisan, Nilo-Saharan, etc.), and America (Hok, Penuti, Uto-Aztec, Totonac, etc.). The Centre coordinates the maintenance and replenishment of such major international Internet resources as the Tower of Babel—a system of interrelated etymological databases launched by Sergei Starostin in 1998) and the Global Lexicostatistical Database—annotated descriptions of the basic vocabulary of different language families, on the basis of which a unified phylogenetic classification of world languages is being worked out).
The staff of the Centre is actively integrated into international scientific activities, working in cooperation with Western research teams pursuing similar tasks, such as the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Human History (Jena, Germany); active scientific relations have been established with the Santa Fe Institute (New Mexico, USA), the University of Leiden (Holland), the National Institute of Oriental Languages and Civilizations (INALCO; Paris), etc.
Since 2018, the Centre operates as the headquarters for the permanent Nostratic seminar RU named after V.M. Illich-Svitych (with plenary sessions devoted to the latest achievements in the field of comparative linguistics and phylogenetics, and a separate working group to compile an online corpus of basic vocabulary for Nostratic languages). Since 2019, the Centre also holds the yearly Sergei Starostin Memorial Conference RU, entirely devoted to current issues of comparative historical linguistics.
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