Encyclopedia > Glottochronology

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In linguistics, the technique of glottochronology is used to estimate the time of divergence of two related languages. It is analogous to the use of C14 dating of organic materials in that a "lexical half-life" is estimated and used to extrapolate to the time the two languages being compared diverged. The method presumes that the basic vocabulary may be used as a sort of clock, on the assumption that basic vocabulary changes at a more-or-less constant rate through time. Morris Swadesh compiled a list of concepts for a basic vocabulary, the Swadesh list[?]. The method is highly controversial and many linguists argue that there is no evidence that language change occurs at a steady rate. Glottochronological results are considered by many linguists to be invalid.

Lexicostatistics[?] involves measuring the percentage of cognates (that is, similar words with similar meanings in two languages where the similarity is attributable to descent from a common ancestral form in an ancestral language) in "basic word lists". The larger the percentage of cognates, the more recently the two languages being compared are presumed to have separated.


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