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Title: The Mathematical Assessment of Long-Range Linguistic Relationships
Author(s): Brett Kessler
Journal Title: Language and Linguistics Compass
Volume: 2
Issue: 5
Page Range: 821-839
Publication Date: Sep-2008
Abstract: Language classification differs from biological cladistics in that monogenesis cannot be assumed. Before a cladogram or family tree can be accepted, linguists must be convinced that the languages are related at all. Morpheme tables, or word lists, provide a good framework for investigating relatedness, but methodologies for quantifying and assessing the data statistically are still being developed. The comparative method furnished a viable statistic, recurrent sound correspondences, but by no means to see whether they exceeded levels expected by chance. Organizing correspondences into contingency tables permitted hypothesis testing, with Monte Carlo resampling methods providing the flexibility to support a wide variety of test statistics, including different ways of computing sound recurrences and phonetic similarity. Thus, techniques from both the comparative method and multilateral comparison can be deployed with rigorous numeric assessment. Experiments seek to increase the power of the tests to explore new hypotheses and verify long-range language relationships.

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