Patterns of Persistence and Diffusibility across the World's Languages

3 Jan 2024  ·  Yiyi Chen, Johannes Bjerva ·

Language similarities can be caused by genetic relatedness, areal contact, universality, or chance. Colexification, i.e. a type of similarity where a single lexical form is used to convey multiple meanings, is underexplored. In our work, we shed light on the linguistic causes of cross-lingual similarity in colexification and phonology, by exploring genealogical stability (persistence) and contact-induced change (diffusibility). We construct large-scale graphs incorporating semantic, genealogical, phonological and geographical data for 1,966 languages. We then show the potential of this resource, by investigating several established hypotheses from previous work in linguistics, while proposing new ones. Our results strongly support a previously established hypothesis in the linguistic literature, while offering contradicting evidence to another. Our large scale resource opens for further research across disciplines, e.g.~in multilingual NLP and comparative linguistics.

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