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How to use typological databases in historical linguistic research

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Several databases have been compiled with the aim of documenting the distribution of typological features across the world’s languages. This paper looks at ways of utilizing this type of data for making inferences concerning genealogical relationships by using phylogenetic algorithms originally developed for biologists. The focus is on methodology, including how to assess the stability of individual typological features and the suitability of different phylogenetic algorithms, as well as ways to enhance phylogenetic signals and heuristic procedures for identifying genealogical relationships. The various issues are illustrated by a small sample of empirical data from a set of Native American languages.

Keywords: Bayesian analysis; Diachronic typology; Maximum parsimony; Native American languages; Neighbor Net; Neighbor-joining; phylogenetic algorithms; stability of linguistic features

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: December 1, 2007

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  • International Journal for Historical Linguistics

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