Vertical and horizontal transmission in language evolution1

Authors


  • 1

    This work has been supported in part by grants 1224/02H and 1127/04H awarded by the Research Grants Council of Hong Kong to the Chinese University of Hong Kong. We would like to thank the anonymous reviewers of an earlier draft of this paper for their constructive criticism. We are also grateful to Drs. Jinyun Ke and Feng Wang, and Miss Joyce Cheung for their helpful comments. Additional supplementary material can be found at http://www.philsoc.org.uk/transactions.asp

Dr James Minett
Department of Electronic Engineering
Ho Sin Hang Engineering Building
The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Shatin, N.T.
Hong Kong PRC
Email:
jminett@ee.cuhk.edu.hk

Professor William S.-Y. Wang
Department of Electronic Engineering
Ho Sin Hang Engineering Building
The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Shatin, N.T.
Hong Kong PRC
Email:
wsywang@ee.cuhk.edu.hk

Abstract

It has been observed that borrowing within a group of genetically related languages often causes the lexical similarities among them to be skewed. Consequently, it has been proposed that borrowing can sometimes be inferred from such skewing. However, heterogeneity in the rate of lexical replacement, as well as borrowing from other languages, can also give rise to skewed lexical similarities. It is important, therefore, to determine to what degree skewing is a statistically significant indicator of borrowing. Here, we describe a statistical hypothesis test for detecting language contact based on skewing of linguistic characters of arbitrary type. Significant probabilities of correct detection of contact are maintained for various contact scenarios, with low false alarm probability. Our experiments show that the test is fairly robust to substantial heterogeneity in the retention rate, both across characters and across lineages, suggesting that the method can provide an objective criterion against which claims of significant skewing due to contact can be tested, pointing the way for more detailed analysis.

Ancillary