Behind family trees: Secondary connections in Uralic language networks

Jyri Lehtinen, Terhi Honkola, Kalle Korhonen, Kaj Syrjänen, Niklas Wahlberg, Outi Vesakoski

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

Abstract

Although it has long been recognized that the family tree model is too simplistic to account for historical connections between languages, most computational studies of language history have concentrated on tree-building methods. Here, we employed computational network methods to assess the utility of network models in comparison with tree models in studying the subgrouping of Uralic languages. We also compared basic vocabulary data with words that are more easily borrowed and replaced cross-linguistically (less basic vocabulary) in order to find out how secondary connections affect computational analyses of this language family. In general, the networks supported a tree-like pattern of diversification, but further provided information about conflicting connections underlying some of the ambiguous divergences in the trees. These were seen as reflections of unclear divergence patterns either in ancestral protolanguages or between languages presently closely related, which pose problems for a tree model. The networks also showed that the relationships of closely related present day languages are more complex than what the tree models suggested. When comparing less basic with basic vocabulary, we could detect the effect of borrowing between different branches (horizontal transfer) mostly between and within the Finnic and Saami subgroups. We argue that the trees achieved with basic vocabulary provide the primary pattern of the divergence of a language family, whereas networks, especially those constructed with less basic vocabulary, add reality to the picture by showing the effect of more complicated developments affecting the connections between the languages.
Original languageEnglish
JournalLanguage Dynamics and Change
Volume4
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)189-221
Number of pages33
ISSN2210-5824
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2014
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

Fields of Science

  • 6121 Languages
  • family tree model
  • language evolution
  • basic vocabulary
  • 1181 Ecology, evolutionary biology
  • computational phylogenetics
  • phylogenetic networks

Cite this

Lehtinen, Jyri ; Honkola, Terhi ; Korhonen, Kalle ; Syrjänen, Kaj ; Wahlberg, Niklas ; Vesakoski, Outi. / Behind family trees : Secondary connections in Uralic language networks. In: Language Dynamics and Change. 2014 ; Vol. 4, No. 2. pp. 189-221.
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Behind family trees : Secondary connections in Uralic language networks. / Lehtinen, Jyri; Honkola, Terhi; Korhonen, Kalle; Syrjänen, Kaj; Wahlberg, Niklas; Vesakoski, Outi.

In: Language Dynamics and Change, Vol. 4, No. 2, 2014, p. 189-221.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

TY - JOUR

T1 - Behind family trees

T2 - Secondary connections in Uralic language networks

AU - Lehtinen, Jyri

AU - Honkola, Terhi

AU - Korhonen, Kalle

AU - Syrjänen, Kaj

AU - Wahlberg, Niklas

AU - Vesakoski, Outi

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