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Linguistic Typology

Ed. by Plank, Frans / Cysouw, Michael

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Adding typology to lexicostatistics: A combined approach to language classification

Dik Bakker1 / André Müller2 / Viveka Velupillai3 / Søren Wichmann1 / Cecil H. Brown4 / Pamela Brown / Dmitry Egorov5 / Robert Mailhammer6 / Anthony Grant7 / Eric W. Holman8

1Lancaster University

2Max-Planck-Institut für evolutionäre Anthropologie

3Justus-Liebig-Universität Gießen

4Northern Illinois University

5Kazanskij gosudarstvennyj universitet

6Katholische Universität Eichstätt-Ingolstadt

7Edge Hill University

8University of California at Los Angeles

Correspondence address: Linguistics and English Language, Lancaster University, LA1 4YT Lancaster, U.K.; e-mail:

Correspondence address: Max-Planck-Institut für evolutionäre Anthropologie, Deutscher Platz 6, 04103 Leipzig, Germany; e-mail:

Correspondence address: Institut für Anglistik, Justus-Liebig-Universität Gießen, Otto-Behaghel-Straße 10 B, 35394 Gießen, Germany; e-mail:

Correspondence address: Max-Planck-Institut für evolutionäre Anthropologie, Deutscher Platz 6, 04103 Leipzig, Germany; e-mail:

Correspondence address: Department of Anthropology, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, IL 60115, U.S.A; e-mail:

Correspondence address: 26 Willow Green Drive, Jackson, TN 38305, U.S.A; e-mail:

Correspondence address: Laboratorija kognitivnyx nauk, Filologičeskij fakul'tet, Kazanskij gosudarstvennyj universitet, ul. Kremlevskaja, 18, 420008, Kazan', Russian Federation; e-mail:

Correspondence address: Englische Sprachwissenschaft, Katholische Universität Eichstätt-Ingolstadt, Universitätsallee 1, 85072 Eichstätt, Germany; e-mail:

Correspondence address: Department of English and History, Edge Hill University, St Helens Road, Ormskirk L39 4QP, U.K.; e-mail:

Correspondence address: Department of Psychology, University of California, Los Angeles, CA 90024-1563, U.S.A.; e-mail:

Citation Information: Linguistic Typology. Volume 13, Issue 1, Pages 169–181, ISSN (Online) 1613-415X, ISSN (Print) 1430-0532, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/LITY.2009.009, May 2009

Publication History

Published Online:


The ASJP project aims at establishing relationships between languages on the basis of the Swadesh word list. For this purpose, lists have been collected and phonologically transcribed for almost 3,500 languages. Using a method based on the algorithm proposed by Levenshtein (Cybernetics and Control Theory 10: 707–710, 1966), a custom-made computer program calculates the distances between all pairs of languages in the database. Standard software is used to express the relationships between languages graphically. The current article compares the results of our lexicon-based approach with the results of a similar exercise that takes the typological variables contained in the WALS database as a point of departure. We establish that the latter approach leads to even better results than the lexicon-based one. The best result in terms of correspondence with some well-established genetic and areal classifications, however, is attained when the lexical and typological methods are combined, especially if we select both the most stable Swadesh items and the most stable WALS variables.

Keywords:: family tree; inflection; lexicon; lexicostatistics; linguistic areas; linguistic atlas; phylogenetic classification; syntax; time-stability

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