New publication by IVS members Stefan Dedio and Paul Widmer in collaboration with Peter Ranacher in Language: Evidence for Britain and Ireland as a linguistic area

Approaches to linguistic areas have largely focused either on purely qualitative investigation of area-formation processes, on quantitative and qualitative exploration of synchronic distributions of linguistic features without considering time, or on theoretical issues related to the definition of the notion 'linguistic area'. What is still missing are approaches that supplement qualitative research on area-formation processes with quantitative methods. Taking a bottom-up approach, we bypass notional issues and propose to quantify area-formation processes by (i) measuring the change in linguistic similarity given a geographical space, a sociocultural setting, a time span, a language sample, and a set of linguistic data, and (ii) testing the tendency and magnitude of the process using Bayesian inference. Applying this approach to the expression of reflexivity in a dense sample of languages in northwestern Europe from the early Middle Ages to the present, we show that the method yields robust quantitative evidence for a substantial gain in linguistic similarity that sets the languages of Britain and Ireland apart from languages spoken outside of Britain and Ireland and cross-cuts lines of linguistic ancestry.


Martha Mariani