Renowned language expert lectures in PNG 05 July, 2013 – Ukarumpa, Papua New Guinea – Written by Tim Scott Dr Bernard Comrie recently visited Papua New Guinea where he lectured at the Summer Institute of Linguistics in Ukarumpa, Eastern Highlands Province. Comrie is a former professor at Cambridge University in England and the University of Southern California, and is currently Distinguished Professor at University of California, Santa Barbara. He is also the Director of the prestigious Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. This was not Comrie’s first visit to PNG. He has a long-term relationship with SIL-PNG and this was his third lecture series here. He has been involved in research in several language groups in PNG and has an unparalleled knowledge of the languages of the world. From his expertise and pioneering research of natural languages he can share fascinating insights into how languages can be so very different and at the same time have many features in common. In one of his lectures, Comrie presented the World Atlas of Language Structure (WALS) book and online publication with interactive map tools. He demonstrated how that tool helps in comparing specific features in languages of the world; this tool can be used to compare the features of PNG languages with the rest of the world’s languages. Village language workers attending the Translator Training Course at the Ukarumpa Training Centre also attended some of the lectures. Principles they learned from Comrie will enhance their understanding of the structures in their own vernacular languages. After leaving the Highlands, Comrie lectured at the University of Papua New Guinea, focusing on how the detailed work carried out by linguists in PNG's indigenous languages has contributed to an overall understanding both of language as a human ability and of the geographical distribution of linguistic phenomena. Comrie showed how the WALS can help identify features of New Guinea languages which have a widespread distribution across the languages of the world versus those that are representative of this linguistically diverse part of the world. PNG’s linguists are looking forward to a return visit from Comrie.
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