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Journal Article

Phylogenetic signal and rate of evolutionary change in language structures


Hübler,  N.       
Department of Linguistic and Cultural Evolution, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Max Planck Society;

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Hübler, N. (2022). Phylogenetic signal and rate of evolutionary change in language structures. Royal Society Open Science, 9(3): 211252. doi:10.1098/rsos.211252.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-000A-29A0-3
Within linguistics, there is an ongoing debate about whether some language structures remain stable over time, which structures these are and whether they can be used to uncover the relationships between languages. However, there is no consensus on the definition of the term ‘stability’. I define ‘stability’ as a high phylogenetic signal and a low rate of change. I use metric D to measure the phylogenetic signal and Hidden Markov Model to calculate the evolutionary rate for 171 structural features coded for 12 Japonic, 2 Koreanic, 14 Mongolic, 11 Tungusic and 21 Turkic languages. To more deeply investigate the differences in evolutionary dynamics of structural features across areas of grammar, I divide the features into 4 language domains, 13 functional categories and 9 parts of speech. My results suggest that there is a correlation between the phylogenetic signal and evolutionary rate and that, overall, two-thirds of the features have a high phylogenetic signal and over a half of the features evolve at a slow rate. Specifically, argument marking (flagging and indexing), derivation and valency appear to be the most stable functional categories, pronouns and nouns the most stable parts of speech, and phonological and morphological levels the most stable language domains.