Journal Article Spatial Structure of Evolutionary Models of Dialects in Contact

Murawaki, Yugo

10 ( 7 ) 2015-07-29 , Public Library of Science
Phylogenetic models, originally developed to demonstrate evolutionary biology, have been applied to a wide range of cultural data including natural language lexicons, manuscripts, folktales, material cultures, and religions. A fundamental question regarding the application of phylogenetic inference is whether trees are an appropriate approximation of cultural evolutionary history. Their validity in cultural applications has been scrutinized, particularly with respect to the lexicons of dialects in contact. Phylogenetic models organize evolutionary data into a series of branching events through time. However, branching events are typically not included in dialectological studies to interpret the distributions of lexical terms. Instead, dialectologists have offered spatial interpretations to represent lexical data. For example, new lexical items that emerge in a politico-cultural center are likely to spread to peripheries, but not vice versa. To explore the question of the tree model's validity, we present a simple simulation model in which dialects form a spatial network and share lexical items through contact rather than through common ancestors. We input several network topologies to the model to generate synthetic data. We then analyze the synthesized data using conventional phylogenetic techniques. We found that a group of dialects can be considered tree-like even if it has not evolved in a temporally tree-like manner but has a temporally invariant, spatially tree-like structure. In addition, the simulation experiments appear to reproduce unnatural results observed in reconstructed trees for real data. These results motivate further investigation into the spatial structure of the evolutionary history of dialect lexicons as well as other cultural characteristics.

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