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Institut für Vergleichende Sprachwissenschaft

Workshop talk by Balthasar Bickel on “Approaching the language faculty with phylogenetic methods”

Balthasar Bickel is presenting “Approaching the language faculty with phylogenetic methods” on Wednesday, 24th May 2023, 11:30 a.m. at the Computational Phylogenetics & Language (Pre)history Workshop (Modelling Glossogeny Project) in Rethymnon, Crete.

Abstract: One of the most specific features of the language faculty is its temporal dynamic. Characterizing what has evolved in the hominin lineage therefore requires capturing this dynamic at the species level. While phylogenetic modeling seems ideally suited for this task, two challenges have been noted. First, the current distribution of language data is heavily skewed by mass extinction of languages during post-Neolithic population history, so our models might not generalize to the species level. Second, the complex, multivariate nature of language makes it hard to estimate state transitions, so our models might miss key properties of the language faculty. While the first challenge can arguably be best addressed by convergence with non-linguistic evidence, I here mainly focus on the second challenge. I will review recent work in my group on models capturing the evolutionary dynamics of various splits and dependencies in language.