The South American Areal Phonology Project aims to identify traces of language contact in the phonologies, or sound systems, of South American languages. Understanding how language contact has affected the phonologies of South American languages is important in two ways. First, the diffusion of linguistic features between languages generally occurs in contexts of intense social interaction between the speakers of the languages involved. This means that identifying traces of phonological diffusion between South American languages gives us insight into the sociocultural history of the region, including inter-cultural contact during the Pre-Colombian period. Second, an understanding of language contact in South America will play a role in linguistic reconstruction by allowing us to identify linguistic features that may be widespread due to language contact, but do not reconstruct to the proto-languages of the continent. The South American Areal Phonology Project is being carried out by Lev Michael, Tammy Stark, and Will Chang.
In September 2012 we launched an online interface for the South American Phonological Inventories Database (SAPhon), which allows allows anyone with an interest in the phonologies of South American languages to explore the sound systems of the continent. SAPhon provides over 350 phonological inventories and a set of useful search tools including a phoneme search that allows visitors to search for languages which have, or lack, particular segments in their inventories.