Department of Linguistics, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, D-04103 Leipzig, Germany; Department of Linguistics, University of California, Santa Barbara, California, 93106-3100; email: email@example.com
The Caucasus is characterized by a relatively high level of linguistic diversity, whether measured in terms of number of languages, number of language families, or structural properties. This is in stark contrast to low levels of linguistic diversity in neighboring areas (Europe, the Middle East), although the Caucasus does not reach such high levels of linguistic diversity as are found in New Guinea. There is even a variation between greater diversity in the North Caucasus and less diversity in the South Caucasus. Illustrative structural properties show not only idiosyncratic properties of individual languages and families but also features that have spread across the boundaries separating languages and families, sometimes with variation across languages with regard to finer points of detail, although few features characterize the Caucasus as a single linguistic area. Social factors have probably played at least as important a role as has geography in the development of linguistic diversity in the Caucasus.