Cecil H. Brown, Eric W. Holman, Søren Wichmann, Viveka Velupillai
September 25, 2009
An approach to the classification of languages through automated lexical comparison is described. This method produces near-expert classifications. At the core of the approach is the Automated Similarity Judgment Program (ASJP). ASJP is applied to 100-item lists of core vocabulary from 245 globally distributed languages. The output is 29,890 lexical similarity percentages for the same number of paired languages. Percentages are used as a database in a program designed originally for generating phylogenetic trees in biology. This program yields branching structures (ASJP trees) reflecting the lexical similarity of languages. ASJP trees for languages of the sample spoken in Middle America and South America show that the method is capable of grouping together on distinct branches languages of non-controversial genetic groups. In addition, ASJP sub-branching for each of nine respective genetic groups Mayan, Mixe-Zoque, Otomanguean, Huitotoan-Ocaina, Tacanan, Chocoan, Muskogean, Indo-European, and Austro-Asiatic agrees substantially with subgrouping for those groups produced by expert historical linguists. ASJP can be applied, among many other uses, to search for possible relationships among languages heretofore not observed or only provisionally recognized. Preliminary ASJP analysis reveals several such possible relationships for languages of Middle America and South America. Expanding the ASJP database to all of the world′s languages for which 100-word lists can be assembled is a realistic goal that could be achieved in a relatively short period of time, maybe one year or even less.