From words to dates: water into wine, mathemagic or phylogenetic inference?

Authors


Quentin Atkinson and Russell Gray
Department of Psychology,
University of Auckland,
Private Bag 92019,
Auckland 1020,
New Zealand.
Email:
rd.gray@auckland.ac.nz

Geoff Nicholls and David Welch
Department of Mathematics,
University of Auckland,
Private Bag 92019,
Auckland 1020,
New Zealand.

Abstract

Gray & Atkinson's (2003) application of quantitative phylogenetic methods to Dyen, Kruskal & Black's (1992) Indo-European database produced controversial divergence time estimates. Here we test the robustness of these results using an alternative data set of ancient Indo-European languages. We employ two very different stochastic models of lexical evolution – Gray & Atkinson's (2003) finite-sites model and a stochastic-Dollo model of word evolution introduced by Nicholls & Gray (in press). Results of this analysis support the findings of Gray & Atkinson (2003). We also tested the ability of both methods to reconstruct phylogeny and divergence times accurately from synthetic data. The methods performed well under a range of scenarios, including widespread and localized borrowing.

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