Evolutionary dynamics of language systems

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Vol/Iss. 114(42) National Academy of Sciences Published In Pages: E8822-E8829
By Greenhill, Simon J. , Wu, Chieh-Hsi, Hua, Xia, Gray, Russell D.


How do subsystems of language evolve over time? It is commonly assumed that grammatical changes of language are slower than vocabulary changes. Using a Dirichlet process mixture model to analyze rates of language evolution in 81 Austronesian languages, the authors find that to the contrary, the grammatical features of language tend to change at a faster rate than basic vocabulary. Furthermore, their results show that grammatical features have higher rates of homoplasy, more frequent contact-induced change, and less deliberate differentiation than basic vocabulary.


Sample Used Coded Data Comment
Database of structural language informationOther researchersGrammatical data were drawn from the Pioneers of Island Melanesia database (PIMdb) and lexical data were drawn from the Austronesian Basic Vocabulary Database (ABVD).

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