Workshop on comparing approaches to measuring linguistic differences

24-25 October 2011, University of Gothenburg

Since the introduction of lexicostatistics in the 1950s, researchers have been investigating methods for the grouping of languages and dialects. The input for these methods are relevant abstractions of linguistic data (most often based on fixed lists of senses, e.g., the Swadesh lists).

The abstractions are traditionally character-based (as in work by Swadesh, Dyen, Ringe, Warnow, Gray and many others), which can be said to define distances on the level of languages. In these approaches, a particular item either is or is not present in a language.

More recently, drawing on advances in computer software and hardware, methods aiming at measuring and aggregating distances among individual linguistic items have been explored (as in work by Kessler, Wichmann, Nerbonne, Kondrak, McMahon and others). In these approaches, individual items are (dis)similar to some quantifiable degree between two languages.

A number of such methods for measuring linguistic differences have been proposed in the literature, but so far, researchers have mostly explored individual methods. Some authors have made explicit comparisons among some of the methods (e.g., Kessler, Kondrak, Nerbonne), but this aspect is still largely unexplored.

There is also a need to contrast the more recent automatic methods with a more traditional historical- comparative methodology (e.g. as recently surveyed and critiqued by Campbell and Poser), which generally draws on a broader range of linguistic phenomena than have so far been used with the automatic approaches, including semantic and grammatical characteristics.

This two-day workshop is intended as a forum to discuss these issues in more depth.

Call for papers

We invite researchers working on these and related problems to submit proposals for presentations at the workshop, including but not limited to topics such as:

  • explicit comparison/evaluation of different methods using the same data
  • what do the methods measure? -- linguistically informed evaluation of automatic approaches to measuring linguistic differences
  • beyond lexicostatistics: quantification of grammatical and semantic differences, in an automatic or non-automatic framework
  • methodological challenges for historical-comparative linguistics
  • quantitative aspects of traditional methods in historical linguistics
  • new data sources for measuring linguistic differences and their methodological challenges
  • case studies on individual languages, language families or linguistic areas

Abstracts should be one (A4 or letter) page long, with 25 mm/one inch margins and the text in a 12 point Roman font. A second page may be included for references and/or data. Abstracts -- in pdf format only -- should be sent to: <workshop2011(at)svenska(d)gu(d)se> (change the parenthesized expressions into the appropriate characters).

Mouton have expressed their interest in publishing a volume based on a selection of presentations at this workshop.


Location: Lilla hörsalen, Humanisten, University of Gothenburg (Renströmsgatan 6: map)

Important dates

  • 15 April 2011: Submission deadline
  • 15 May 2011: Acceptance notification
  • 24-25 October 2011: Workshop

© University of Gothenburg 2009, Box 100, 405 30 Gothenburg, Sweden
Tel +46 31 786 0000, Contact

About the site