Geospatial distributions reflect temperatures of linguistic features
Henri Kauhanen, Deepthi Gopal, Tobias Galla, Ricardo Bermudez-Otero
January 2021

Quantifying the rate of change of different linguistic features is challenging because the historical evolution of languages is sparsely documented. Consequently, traditional methods rely on phylogenetic reconstruction. Here, we propose a model-based approach to the problem through the analysis of language change as a stochastic process combining vertical descent, spatial interactions, and mutations in both dimensions. A notion of linguistic temperature emerges naturally from this analysis as a dimensionless measure of the propensity of a linguistic feature to undergo change. We demonstrate how temperatures of linguistic features can be inferred from their present-day geospatial distributions, without recourse to information about their phylogenies. Thus, the evolutionary dynamics of language, operating across thousands of years, leave a measurable geospatial signature. This signature licenses inferences about the historical evolution of languages even in the absence of longitudinal data.
Format: [ pdf ]
Reference: lingbuzz/005666
(please use that when you cite this article)
Published in: Science Advances, Vol. 7, no. 1, eabe6540, (definitive version of record)
keywords: language change, language contact, linguistic geography, linguistic phylogeny, stability estimation, temperature estimation, typology, wals, voter model, statistical mechanics, population genetics, complex systems science, computational modelling, morphology, syntax, phonology
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