Truly, this is the golden age of linguistic blogging. The past week has seen three incredible breakthroughs in the area of typology, all based on discoveries announced in weblog posts.
The first discovery came from Claire Bowern, "Language of the Week: DIY", Anggarrgoon, 5/6/2008. DIY is the ISO 639-3 code for Diuwe, where (as Claire noted) "the sole comment is ‘below 100 meters’". This led her to propose the bold hypothesis that "altitude affects air stream mechanisms", since the "consonant inventory [of Diuwe] contains 3 stops, four fricatives, 5 laterals, six approximants and seven vowels". (Though Claire didn't mention it, I've heard on the grapevine that Diuwe's vowel inventory consists entirely of three nasal affricates.)
Claire's bombshell was quickly followed by an equally striking discovery about altitude as a determinant of linguistic structure: Mark Dingemanse's "The Hidbap language of PNG", posted at The Ideophone on 5/7/2008.
Hidbap is Diuwe’s closest neighbour both geographically and phylogenetically. It is a language spoken above 100m but below 200m in the same area as Diuwe, that is, 12 miles southwest of Sumo, east of the Catalina River. Like Diuwe, it has exactly 100 speakers. The languages are quite closely related, though there is no mutual intelligibility due to the presence of a large bundle of isoglosses at the 100m isoline. […]
Hidbap has a phoneme inventory which is quite similar to that of Diuwe as far as places of articulation go, but the consonants, rather than being pulmonic egressive as in Diuwe, are all implosives and ejectives.
And the most extraordinary report of all was Lev Michael's "Cultural constraints on Aharip grammar", posted at Greater Blogozonia on 5/8/2008:
Recent research on Aharip, one of the typologically remarkable languages of the Mt. Iso area of Papua New Guinea, has revealed striking evidence in support of recent proposals that a people’s culture can significantly affect the grammar of the language spoken by that people (Everett 2005). In particular, the culture of the Aharip, who live between the 300 and 400 meter isoclines of Mt. Iso, appears to prohibit any direct reference to immediate experience. Instead Aharip culture appears to be governed by a ‘Distant Experience Principle’ (DEP).
The cultural and grammatical consequence of the DEP are wide-ranging, including a tense system that distinguishes only distant future and distant past tenses. One of the most remarkable findings regarding Aharip grammar, however, is the absence of any grammatical structures lacking recursion.
The Aharip numeral system also shows the consequences of the DEP, in that it consists solely of transfinite numbers and infinitesimals.
As far as linguistic anthropologists have been able to determine, all Aharip utterances consist of quotations of creation myths and science fiction novels, the meanings of which are inferred on the basis of culture-specific communicative maxims, including the Maxim of Vast Quantities.