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History and Ecology of Language and languages

Themes and actions

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Eol-DiaDM: Language Evolution: Diachronic Data and Methods

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Scientific framework and objectives

Recently, computational methods from evolutionary biology were imported into historical linguistics with a relative success, offering a new framework to address issues about the evolution of languages, such as testing hypotheses of language affiliation, dating language trees and specifying and estimating parameters involved in the evolution of a given language group. For such new methods to be applied in a principled way, they need to account for the specificities of the linguistic objects they deal with, with respect to the biological objects they have been developed for. The analogies between biological and linguistic evolution, though obvious, are too superficial to support a realistic modelling of the processes involved in the evolution of languages. Estimating the parameters that shape the evolutionary dynamics of languages is therefore a major challenge for a principled application of phylogenetic methods (and methods from population genetics) to linguistic classification and to the analysis of the diversity of languages.

This project aims at constructing an innovating platform for modelling diachronic processes. Given the state of art in linguistic phylogenies, it is now fundamental to be able to estimate rates of sound changes. But such a task has to be based on the data. This project is thus a data-based approach to these quantification issues, which aims at defining universals of sound change as well as the specifics of each language group. It involves the compilation of data on sound change for a representative sample of the languages of the world, so as to determine tendencies of change and their relative prevalence.

  Financial support
  • Fondation Fyssen

    Fondation Fyssen
  • Evolution of Languages : Diachronic Data and Models (EoL-DiaDM)

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