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A Global Tree of Languages

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I was a reviewer for the Evolution of Language (Evolang) conference for the first time this year, a tedious-sounding task that turned out to be hilarious.  The conference attracts some bizarre manuscripts on the origins of language, one particularly imaginative one I wanted to devote a blogpost to, but regretfully cannot because of reviewer confidentiality.

Also in my inbox to review was the most exciting paper about language that I’d ever seen.  I recommended acceptance obviously, even though it was only tangentially related to the theme of the conference, and it was accepted as a poster and published in the conference proceedings (available here). 

The paper was by Gerhard Jäger and Søren Wichmann, about constructing a world family tree of languages using a database of basic vocabulary, the ASJP database.  Claims about how language families may be related are nothing new but are normally statistically uninformed (such as work by Merritt Ruhlen and Joseph Greenberg).  The amazing thing…