Author Archives: Johann-Mattis List

About Johann-Mattis List

Seit Anfang 2017 bin ich leitender Wissenschaftler am Max-Planck-Institut für Menschheitsgeschichte in Jena, in der Abteilung für sprachliche und kulturelle Evolution. In meiner Forschung nehme ich generell einen datenbasierten, empirischen und quantitativen Standpunkt in Bezug auf Sprachwandel und Sprachgeschichte ein, mit einem speziellen Fokus auf südostasiatischen Sprachen. Im Gegensatz zu rein computerbasierten Ansätzen versuche ich jedoch, meine Forschung nah an der traditionellen historischen Linguistik und der linguistischen Theorie auszurichten, weshalb ich einen computer-gestützten Ansatz im Gegensatz zu einem rein computer-basierten Ansatz verfolge.

Representing Structural Data in CLDF

The Cross-Linguistic Data Formats initiative (CLDF, https://cldf.clld.org, Forkel et al. 2018) has helped a lot in preparing the CLICS² database of cross-linguistic colexifications (https://clics.lingpy.org, List et al. 2018), since linking our data to Concepticon (https://concepticon.clld.org, List et al. 2016) and Glottolog (https://glottolog.org, Hammarström et al. 2018) has provided incredible help in merging the different datasets into a big comparative dataset.

CLDF, however, is not restricted to lexical data, but can also be successfully used to store structural data, although — due to the nature of structural data — it is much more difficult to compare different datasets.

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Cooking with CLICS

Robert Forkel just published a very nice cookbook example for our CLICS database (List et al. 2018f, http://clics.clld.org), where you can find out how to manipulate the data further, apart from just installing it and running it to replicate our analyses.

This cookbook tells you how the underlying SQLITE database is structured and how you can, after installing CLICS and the respective packages, access the data to conduct studies of your own.

As a little example of what you can do with the new CLICS API, let me illustrate in this post, how we can use the old CLICS data (underlying the version 1.0 by List et al. 2014, http://clics.lingpy.org), available from here, in the new application, specifically the standalone that we provide.

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Exporting Sublists from a Wordlist with LingPy and Concepticon

When dealing with linguistic datasets, we may often want to export only a small part of our data, for example, only vocabulary in a certain range, such as the Swadesh list of 200 items or the list of 35 items by Yakhontov (originally published in Starostin 1991. Thanks to the pyconcepticon API and LingPy’s built-in export functions for wordlists, this task can be done just in a few lines of code, as we will see below. If you prefer to see the raw code instead of the step-by-step explanation below, you can find a GitHub Gist here.

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Let the Games Begin!

By comparing the languages of the world, we gain invaluable insights into human prehistory, predating the appearance of written records by thousands of years. The traditional methods for language comparison are based on manual data inspection. With more and more data available, they reach their practical limits. Computer applications, however, are not capable of replacing experts’ experience and intuition. In a situation where computers cannot replace experts and experts do not have enough time to analyse the massive amounts of data, a new framework, neither completely computer-driven, nor ignorant of the help computers provide, becomes urgent. Such frameworks are well-established in biology and translation, where computational tools cannot provide the accuracy needed to arrive at convincing results, but do assist humans to digest large data sets.

After one month of preparation, during which our team was busy teaching each other, members of our seminar at Friedrich Schiller University Jena, and colleagues in our department, how to code, we are ready to launch the first posts during the next weeks.

I will refrain from promising too much at this stage, but I recommend those interested in learning more about different topics as diverse as coding (in Python and R), data curation and analysis, theory of diversity linguistics, and methodology of historical language comparison to keep an eye on this blog. Our core team of four to five authors will try to publish at least one new blogpost per month, and we will try to constantly increase our range of authors by inviting colleagues from our Department of Linguistic and Cultural Evolution and from other institutions to present their questions, ideas, or approaches to questions related to computer-based and computer-assisted approaches in historical language comparison and beyond.

Our team is currently preparing the first blogposts for this month. I won’t tell you too much about the concrete content yet, but if you are interested in computer-assisted language comparison and empirical approaches to diversity linguistics, I recommend you to keep an eye on our weblog.

Cite this article as: Johann-Mattis List, "Let the Games Begin!," in Computer-Assisted Language Comparison in Practice, 06/06/2018, https://calc.hypotheses.org/22.