A Relaxed Admixture Model of Language Contact

in Language Dynamics and Change
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Under conditions of language contact, a language may gain features from its neighbors that it is unlikely to have gained endogenously. We describe a method for evaluating pairs of languages for potential contact by comparing a null hypothesis, in which a target language obtained all its features by inheritance, with an alternative hypothesis in which the target language obtained its features via inheritance and via contact with a proposed donor language. Under the alternative hypothesis, the donor may influence the target to gain features, but not to lose features. When applied to a database of phonological characters in South American languages, this method proves useful for detecting the effects of relatively mild and recent contact, and for highlighting several potential linguistic areas in South America.

A Relaxed Admixture Model of Language Contact

in Language Dynamics and Change

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    Figure 1

    Diagram of a probabilistic generative model

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    Figure 2

    Inheritance-only model article image

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    Figure 3

    Alternative hypothesis model article image

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    Figure 4

    Interfamily borrowing scores by distance. The second plot is an enlargement of the first.

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    Figure 5

    Line plot showing language pairs with high borrowing scores. Some languages have been nudged apart for clarity. Languages in red belong to a proposed culture or linguistic area. The supplement contains a larger diagram with all languages labeled.

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    Figure 6

    Languages of the Upper Xingú culture area, ordered from north (downriver) to south (upriver). Asterisks mark those that entered the area after 1950. Line segments show pairs with borrowing scores higher than 2. (Nodes on the left represent languages as donors; nodes on the right respresent them as targets.) For each such pair, we report the borrowing score, the mean percentage of the donor’s segments that were borrowed, and the segments identified as likely borrowed, contingent on contact.

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    Figure 7

    Language scores assigned by a naive Bayes classifier. Redness (or blueness) denotes the probability of membership in the Upper Xingú core (or the control).

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    Figure 8

    Feature deltas assigned by a naive Bayes classifier. Positivity (or negativity) along the y-axis denotes the strength of the association between a feature and the Upper Xingú core (or the control).

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    Figure 9

    Model for estimating article image

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