Finding families: Quantitative methods in language classification

A. McMahon, R. McMahon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

67 Citations (SciVal)


Over the past two decades, many of the major controversies in historical linguistics have centred on language classification. Some of these controversies have been concentrated within linguistics, as in the methodological opposition of multilateral comparison to the traditional Comparative Method. Others have crossed discipline boundaries, with the question of whether correlations can be established between language families, archaeological cultures and genetic populations. At the same time, increasing emphasis on language contact has challenged the family tree as a model of linguistic relatedness. This paper argues that we must quantify language classification, to allow objective evaluation of alternative methods within linguistics, and of proposed cross-disciplinary correlations; and that a first step in this quantification is represented by the 'borrowing' of computational tools from biology.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7-55
Number of pages49
JournalTransactions of the Philological Society
Issue number1
Early online date19 Mar 2003
Publication statusPublished - 01 Apr 2003


Dive into the research topics of 'Finding families: Quantitative methods in language classification'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this