NEUTRAL EVOLUTION: A NULL MODEL FOR LANGUAGE DYNAMICS

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Abstract

We review the task of aligning simple models for language dynamics with relevant empirical data, motivated by the fact that this is rarely attempted in practice despite an abundance of abstract models. We propose that one way to meet this challenge is through the careful construction of null models. We argue in particular that rejection of a null model must have important consequences for theories about language dynamics if modeling is truly to be worthwhile. Our main claim is that the stochastic process of neutral evolution (also known as genetic drift or random copying) is a viable null model for language dynamics. We survey empirical evidence in favor and against neutral evolution as a mechanism behind historical language changes, highlighting the theoretical implications in each case.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1150015
Pages (from-to)-
Number of pages20
JournalAdvances in Complex Systems
Volume15
Issue number3-4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - May 2012

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