Harry R. Schwartz

Code writer, sometime Internet enthusiast, attractive nuisance.

The author at the Palais du Luxembourg in Paris, November 2022. hacker news gitlab sourcehut pinboard librarything 1B41 8F2C 23DE DD9C 807E A74F 841B 3DAE 25AE 721B


British Columbia





Published .
Tags: history, language, math, words.

Linguistics + Math + History = Glottochronology. YES.

Glottochronology refers to methods in historical linguistics used to estimate the time at which languages diverged, based on the assumption that the basic (core) vocabulary of a language changes at a constant average rate. This assumption, originally put forward by Morris Swadesh, is based on an analogy with the use of carbon dating for measuring the age of organic materials, in that a “lexical half-life” is estimated. The method estimates the length of time since two or more languages diverged from a common earlier proto-language, by counting the number of words that have been replaced in each language. This then yields an estimated date of origin for those languages.


For example, in an attempt to measure how long Easter Island had been isolated, glottochronologists measured the divergence between the Rapa Nui language (spoken on Easter Island) and the language of the neighboring island of Mangareva and used that difference to estimate the amount of time that must have passed since those two languages had diverged. Neat!

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