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Søren Wichmann

Department of Linguistics
Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig
Phone:+49 341 3550-310

Sandra Jacob

Press and Public Relations
Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig
Phone:+49 341 3550-122Fax:+49 341 3550-119

Publication reference

Eric W. Holman, Cecil H. Brown, Søren Wichmann, André Müller, Viveka Velupillai, Harald Hammarström, Sebastian Sauppe, Hagen Jung, Dik Bakker, Pamela Brown, Oleg Belyaev, Matthias Urban, Robert Mailhammer, Johann-Mattis List, Dmitry Egorov
Automated Dating of the World’s Language Families based on Lexical Similarity

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Cultural Studies . Linguistics

Dating the world’s language families

An international consortium develops a computerized method for dating when prehistoric languages were spoken

December 02, 2011

A computerized method for determining when prehistoric languages were spoken has been developed by an international group of scholars known as the ASJP (Automated Similarity Judgment Program) consortium. ASJP is anchored in the Linguistics Department of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. The method is described in the most recent issue of Current Anthropology.
Distribution of languages and dialects in the Automated Similarity Judgment Program database. Zoom Image
Distribution of languages and dialects in the Automated Similarity Judgment Program database.

The new method, building on an earlier approach known as glottochronology, calculates dates for parent languages of all of the world’s language families including such groups as Indo-European, Austronesian, and Mayan. It is based on the observation that the greater the linguistic differentiation within a family, the greater the period of time required for that differentiation to accrue. By quantifying vocabulary differences across languages of a family, the date at which a family’s parent language was most recently spoken is determined

The database used, compiled over several years by the ASJP consortium, is of unprecedented size, covering over half of the world’s more than 6000 languages. “ASJP dates facilitate connecting languages of the remote past with events revealed through archaeology, thus enhancing the study of prehistoric peoples”, says Søren Wichmann, a researcher at the MPI for Evolutionary Anthropology.

 

The following institutions contributed to this study: University of California, Los Angeles; Northern Illinois University; University of West Florida; Leiden University; Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology; Leipzig University; Justus Liebig University Gießen; Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen; University of Amsterdam; University of Lancaster; Moscow State University; Arizona State University; Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf; Kazan State University.

 
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