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Population size and language change

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Jordan, F. (2009). Population size and language change. Talk presented at 11th International Conference on Austronesian Linguistics. Aussois, France. 2009-06-22 - 2009-06-26.


Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-0013-36AA-2
Abstract
Aspects of language vary in their rates of evolution and subsequently different languages may accumulate different amounts of lexical change once they split from a common ancestor. Linguists propose a number of driving factors for differences in rates of change. Here, following simple theoretical models borrowed from population genetics, I test for an association between lexical change and a demographic variable, language population size, in the Austronesian languages. Conventional correlation analyses reveal a significant inverse relationship, suggesting that as population size increases, lexical change decreases. However, phylogenetic comparative methods that control for shared descent produce different results, demonstrating once again that history matters.