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Distributional biases in language families


Bickel, Balthasar (2013). Distributional biases in language families. In: Bickel, Balthasar; Grenoble, Lenore A; Peterson, David A; Timberlake, Alan. Language typology and historical contingency. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Co., 415-444.

Abstract

This paper introduces a method (the Family Bias Method) that estimates statistical biases in diachronic developments on the basis of synchronic samples. Estimates of developments are sought from their expected synchronic results: if a structure S outnumbers non-S significantly in a family, a change toward S in this family was more likely than a change away from it – either because S was there in the protolanguage and then hardly ever got lost, or because S was not there and then it was was innovated early or often in the family. If structures are balanced in a family, no signal can be inferred: unless we know the protolanguage, diversification could have proceeded in any direction. Using extrapolation methods, signals for diachronic biases can also be estimated for isolates and small families, which represent over half of the known families. If most families show a bias, but there are as many biases toward S as against S worldwide, this suggests genealogical stability. If most biases are in the same direction, this suggests a diachronic universal or, if they are limited to certain geo-historical regions, areal trends or hotbed effects. Evidence for the theoretical assumptions of the Family Bias Method comes mainly from demonstrating that synchronic distributions in families cannot be successfully explained by alternative approaches, such as those assuming general stability indices.

Abstract

This paper introduces a method (the Family Bias Method) that estimates statistical biases in diachronic developments on the basis of synchronic samples. Estimates of developments are sought from their expected synchronic results: if a structure S outnumbers non-S significantly in a family, a change toward S in this family was more likely than a change away from it – either because S was there in the protolanguage and then hardly ever got lost, or because S was not there and then it was was innovated early or often in the family. If structures are balanced in a family, no signal can be inferred: unless we know the protolanguage, diversification could have proceeded in any direction. Using extrapolation methods, signals for diachronic biases can also be estimated for isolates and small families, which represent over half of the known families. If most families show a bias, but there are as many biases toward S as against S worldwide, this suggests genealogical stability. If most biases are in the same direction, this suggests a diachronic universal or, if they are limited to certain geo-historical regions, areal trends or hotbed effects. Evidence for the theoretical assumptions of the Family Bias Method comes mainly from demonstrating that synchronic distributions in families cannot be successfully explained by alternative approaches, such as those assuming general stability indices.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Book Section, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:06 Faculty of Arts > Department of Comparative Linguistics
08 University Research Priority Programs > Language and Space
Dewey Decimal Classification:490 Other languages
890 Other literatures
410 Linguistics
Language:English
Date:2013
Deposited On:23 Dec 2013 11:54
Last Modified:05 Apr 2016 17:16
Publisher:John Benjamins Publishing Co.
Series Name:Typological Studies in Language
Number:104
ISSN:0167-7373
ISBN:978-90-272-0685-5
Official URL:https://benjamins.com/#catalog/books/tsl.104.19bic/details
Related URLs:http://www.jbe-platform.com/content/books/9789027270801
http://opac.nebis.ch/F/?local_base=NEBIS&CON_LNG=GER&func=find-b&find_code=SYS&request=010032926

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