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A Momentary Flow

Evolving Worldviews

How do language families evolve over many thousands of years? How stable over time are structural features of languages? Researchers Dan Dediu and Stephen Levinson from the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen introduced a new method using Bayesian phylogenetic approaches to analyse the evolution of structural features in more than 50 language families. Their paper ‘Abstract profiles of structural stability point to universal tendencies, family-specific factors, and ancient connections between languages’ was published online on September 20, 2012 in PLoS ONE. Language is one of the best examples of a cultural evolutionary system. How vocabularies evolve has been extensively studied, but researchers know relatively little about the stability of structural properties of language - pholonoly, morphology and syntax. In their PLoS ONE paper, Dan Dediu (MPI’s Language and Genetics Department) and Stephen Levinson (director of MPI’s Language and Cognition Department) asked how stable over time the structural features of languages are – aspects like word order, the inventory of sounds, or plural marking of nouns. “If at least some of them are relatively stable over long time periods, they promise a way to get at ancient language relationships,” the researchers state in their paper. “But opinion has been divided, some researchers holding that universally there is a hierarchy of stability for such features, others claiming that individual language families show their own idiosyncrasies in what features are stable and which not.” (via Study shows ancient relations between language families | Science Codex)

How do language families evolve over many thousands of years? How stable over time are structural features of languages? Researchers Dan Dediu and Stephen Levinson from the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen introduced a new method using Bayesian phylogenetic approaches to analyse the evolution of structural features in more than 50 language families. Their paper ‘Abstract profiles of structural stability point to universal tendencies, family-specific factors, and ancient connections between languages’ was published online on September 20, 2012 in PLoS ONE. Language is one of the best examples of a cultural evolutionary system. How vocabularies evolve has been extensively studied, but researchers know relatively little about the stability of structural properties of language - pholonoly, morphology and syntax. In their PLoS ONE paper, Dan Dediu (MPI’s Language and Genetics Department) and Stephen Levinson (director of MPI’s Language and Cognition Department) asked how stable over time the structural features of languages are – aspects like word order, the inventory of sounds, or plural marking of nouns. “If at least some of them are relatively stable over long time periods, they promise a way to get at ancient language relationships,” the researchers state in their paper. “But opinion has been divided, some researchers holding that universally there is a hierarchy of stability for such features, others claiming that individual language families show their own idiosyncrasies in what features are stable and which not.” (via Study shows ancient relations between language families | Science Codex)

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