Ancestor-descendant distance

Fri Aug 13 16:32:46 UTC 1999

Jon Patrick writes:

>The idea is that the distance between languages is represented by the
>series of changes that occur to a large set of words in moving from their
>parent form to their daughter forms, so that distance apart is not measured
>between the daughter languages but rather by their distance from their
>parent. We feel this better represents the real world process.

This is a crucial conceptual change, that can lead to much progress
in Comparative / Reconstructive linguistics.

I certainly hope that various data sets can be used with the methods Patrick
describes, to observe what the results are.

But as in any creation of any proposed tool,
we must at the same time be evaluating the tool itself,
not taking it for granted.
Patrick quoted me including this:

>    and to CREATE more such tools by discovering what ways of
>   handling the data are robust across what kinds of intervening changes.

How do we know whether the proposed tool is robust across
different kinds of changes and different real-world situations?
We must evaluate the tool against cases where we think we know what
answers it should give, and try to see what parameters do limit or might
limit its extrapolation to cases where we have no independent basis for
drawing a conclusion.

A study of the work of Ringe and company on the family tree of
Indo-European, in comparison with the method proposed by
Jon Patrick, could be interesting.  I would think, from the brief
description Patrick supplied, and from what I have read of Ringe's
work, that Patrick would want a larger quantity of computerized data
than was put into the data set used by Ringe?

We now have an international standard computer Code, Unicode,
which contains most of the characters needed for transliteration
(Latin-standard-based letters) and for phonetic transcription (IPA).
It would be useful to try to establish a standard for Comparative
Data sets, into which all existing computer data sets can be translated,
so that the massive sets of data can be made available for studies
such as this.

Best wishes,
Lloyd Anderson
Ecological Linguistics

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