About the estimates of divergence times of Uralic languages

Terhi Honkola terhi.honkola at utu.fi
Fri Oct 8 12:21:54 UTC 2010

Hello everyone,

I´m pleased to see the amount of discussion around the divergence time estimates of Uralic languages and I truly want to thank of all the comments and suggestions which you have posted around this topic!

Compared to the early days of glottochronology, there has occurred a significant improvement in the computational methods for conducting timing analyses in evolutionary studies. These have been widely used in biology and recently applied also to language data (Kitchen et al 2009 Proc R Soc B).

We are aware that the speciation of languages is not a sudden and clear cut process as it is not that kind of a process in biology either. That is why the methods used in biology should be capable of taking this into account also with linguistic material. Our data consists of extensive word lists that has been analysed with up-to-dated phylogenetic methods to find the relationships between the languages. 

One of the programs calculates the timing of the branches based on certain calibration points (e.g. the ones we presented earlier). Based on the locations of the given calibration points and amount of lexical differences between the languages, the program analyses the rates of changes of languages or language subfamilies. This means that the program actually takes into account the possibility of variating rate of change within the family.

Furthermore, the relative influence of each calibration point is studied by running the analyses with and without that point. This provides an estimate for the reliability of the calibration points. However, it is very important to consider carefully the calibration points both in language data and in any kind of biological data.

Once again, thank you for your comments, they provided us new insights for things that are discussed among uralists. Your further comments are welcome also in the future!

With kind regards,

Terhi Honkola and Outi Vesakoski (outves at utu.fi)

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