Behind Family Trees

Secondary Connections in Uralic Language Networks

in Language Dynamics and Change
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Although it has long been recognized that the family tree model is too simplistic to account for historical connections between languages, most computational studies of language history have concentrated on tree-building methods. Here, we employ computational network methods to assess the utility of network models in comparison with tree models in studying the subgrouping of Uralic languages. We also compare basic vocabulary data with words that are more easily borrowed and replaced cross-linguistically (less basic vocabulary) in order to find out how secondary connections affect computational analyses of this language family. In general, the networks support a treelike pattern of diversification, but also provide information about conflicting connections underlying some of the ambiguous divergences in the trees. These are seen as reflections of unclear divergence patterns (either in ancestral protolanguages or between languages closely related at present), which pose problems for a tree model. The networks also show that the relationships of closely related present-day languages are more complex than what the tree models suggest. When comparing less basic with basic vocabulary, we can detect the effect of borrowing between different branches (horizontal transfer) mostly between and within the Finnic and Saami subgroups. We argue that the trees obtained with basic vocabulary provide the primary pattern of the divergence of a language family, whereas networks, especially those constructed with less basic vocabulary, add reality to the picture by showing the effect of more complicated developments affecting the connections between the languages.

Behind Family Trees

Secondary Connections in Uralic Language Networks

in Language Dynamics and Change

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    Figure 1

    Distances of the Uralic subgroups calculated from shared retentions of reconstructed Proto-Uralic vocabulary, based on data from Sammallahti (1988)

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    Figure 2

    Map of the Uralic languages included in the study

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    Figure 3

    a) A simulated tree; b) corresponding NeighborNet network with bootstrap values; two splits indicated with dashed lines

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    Figure 4

    Phylogenetic trees from the basic vocabulary datasets. Posterior probability values marked at nodes. a) Full Basic Vocabulary dataset (Swadesh lists + Leipzig-Jakarta; conventional low-level subgroups indicated); b) Ura100; c) Leipzig-Jakarta

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    Figure 5a

    Full Basic Vocabulary NeighborNet with low-level subgroups marked and bootstrap values greater than 75 indicated at the corresponding splits (δ = 0.172)

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    Figure 5b

    Ura100 network (δ = 0.1933)

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    Figure 5c

    Leipzig-Jakarta network (δ = 0.1787)

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    Figure 6

    Phylogenetic tree from the WOLD401–500 data

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    Figure 7

    NeighborNet from the WOLD401–500 dataset (δ = 0.244)

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