A major problem for data reuse in computer-assisted historical linguistics, especially when employing data collected with no computational workflows in mind, is linking datasets in terms of the meanings of the words (or, technically, “forms”) they carry. Just as linking languages across different datasets is not as straightforward as one might naively assume, demanding a complex reference catalog such as Glottolog, linking the concepts used in a wordlist (a “concept list”) to our Concepticon project might well be the most intensive task in preparing a dataset for cross-linguistic studies.
In language comparison, there is a long history of using concept-based wordlists to get insights into the degree of similarity between languages, going back at least to Morris Swadesh (Swadesh 1950). For these purposes, words from different languages that share the same meaning are compared, either manually or with computational methods. The latter have the advantages of being both faster and more consistent. However, there are also limits to what computer-based methods can detect for the time being.
One of the biggest problems in this context is that none of the currently available methods for automatic cognate detection can infer partial cognates directly if no information on morpheme boundaries is provided by the user. As a result, if morpheme boundaries are missing and morphological differences are frequent in the data one wants to investigate, automatic cognate detection can be seriously hampered (List, Greenhill, and Gray 2017).