, the technique of glottochronology
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.
- Robert Lees[?], The Basis of Glottochronology, Language, Vol. 29, No. 2., pp. 113-127.
- Andree Sjoberg[?] and Gideon Sjoberg[?], Problems in Glottochronology, American Anthropologist[?], New Series, Vol. 58, No. 2., pp. 296-308.
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