Semantic data are notoriously difficult to handle. In contrast to the form-part of the linguistic sign, meanings are not organized sequentially, but rather network-like (List 2014: 34f). As a result, we often encounter problems when trying to model complex relations between different meanings, specifically in those cases, where we have only tables as our base material. This blog post tries to summarize how major types of semantic data are handled in the Concepticon project and how they can be accessed in code.
In the last two weeks we had a renewed interest in colexifications, especially in the third generation of the “Database of Cross-Linguistic Colexifications” (Rzymski, Tresoldi, et al., 2020). The attention was due to two different and independent requests in few days. For those unfamiliar, the concept of “colexification” (François, 2008) refers to instances in which a language uses the same lexeme to express more than one comparable concept (e.g., Russian де́рево, which can mean both “tree” and “wood”). The CLICS project, first developed by List et al. (2014), is an offspring of the transparent approaches to standardization, aggregation, and curation of linguistic data that have been promoted within the CLDF framework (Forkel et al., 2018). It uses standardized lexical databases to identify “colexification networks”.
STARLING is a software package, originally created by Sergej A. Starostin, which is designed for historical linguists who want to build their own etymological dictionaries. It is not only a database system that allows its users to set up a very straightforward relational database structure, but also a package full of surprises, since it contains many methods that are supposed to automate specific tasks in historical linguistics. These range from phylogenetic tree reconstruction via the preliminary identification of sound correspondences up to the comparison of elicitation glosses for their semantic similarity. While phylogenetic reconstruction and sound correspondences are now quite successfully handled in alternative software packages, I thought it would be interesting to discuss the routine for assessing concept similarity in more detail, since it offers interesting possibilities for those who practice historical language comparison.
The CLICS database in its current format makes direct use of the data assembled by the Concepticon project in order to aggregate lexical data from different sources. At the same time, the CLICS database itself can be seen as an interesting conceptlist, providing information on concept polysemy and semantic similarity.
While the core of the Concepticon project (https://concepticon.clld.org, List et al. 2019) are the numerous conceptlists which are constantly being added by the growing list of contributors, we have already from the beginning of the project, with the first version (List et al. 2016) tried to collect various kinds of concept metadata for all our concept sets.
Besides new algorithms and tools that facilitate established workflows, one change prompted by computer-assisted approaches to language comparison is a distinct relationship between scientists and their data. A critical part of our work, and perhaps the one with the most lasting impact, is to promote an approach in which the data life-cycle is not constrained within the limits of planning and publishing a study. Data are organized and planned for reuse in investigations perhaps not even considered during collection, with the output of one project becoming the input of another.
Having seen how we can obtain a simple scorer derived from the feature system in CLTS (List et al. 2019) in last month’s post, what is missing now, in order to use the scorer for alignment analyses, is an alignment function which can take the scorer as an argument. If one does not have higher ambitions with respect to the alignment function itself, this step can be achieved in a very straightforward way with help of LingPy’s (List et al. 2018)
sw_align() method. As can be seen from the documentation, this method takes as input two sequences (i.e., lists of sounds), along with a scoring function. Obviously, all we need to do now is to create our specific scorer based on the CLTS features, and then pass this scoring function along with our sequences to the function.
In the past, people have repeatedly asked me how they could use their own scoring functions in combination with LingPy’s alignment algorithms. Their major concern was that the sound-class-based scoring systems we use in LingPy might fail to reflect true phonetic similarity of sounds, specifically also because they are not informed by classical ideas about distinctive features in phonology. As described in detail in List (2014), LingPy converts sounds in phonetic transcription to an internal alphabet of less than 30 letters, to which the alignment algorithms are then applied in a second stage.
During the 24th International Conference of Historical Linguistics, I was asked by a colleague whether I would know a good way to align and scores sentences available in form of phonetic transcriptions. While it is clear that one can roughly compare the difference between sequences rather easily by aligning them, and calculating, for example, the edit distance between them, it is clear that the task of sentence alignment could be done in a somewhat more subtle way.
Mapping a given concept list to Concepticon can be done in a straight-forward way, even if automatic mappings need manual refinement. But what can we do when having to deal with larger datasets, say, a dictionary, from which we want to extract specific concepts, such as, for example, the ones in the classical Swadesh list of 100 items (Swadesh 1955)?
Having illustrated how a quick correspondence pattern analysis can be done with help of readily formatted data and the EDICTOR tool alone, it is now time to show how we can use the LingRex package in order to carry out a full-fledged correspondence pattern analysis. While EDICTOR uses a simple algorithm that is based on sorting the patterns, the Python algorithm for correspondence pattern detection, which is described in detail in List (2019), uses a greedy approach inspired by the Welsh-Powell algorithm for graph coloring (Welsh and Powell 1967), in order to cluster all alignment sites in the data into clusters which are compatible with each other.
Imagine you have two different datasets, both containing approximately the same concepts, but slightly different numbers of columns and — more importantly — potentially identical identifiers in the first column. A bad idea for merging these datasets would be to paste them in Excel or some other kind of spreadsheet software, and then trying to manually adjust all problems that might occur during this process.
A better idea is to just use LingPy and our CLDF curation framework Continue reading
In a previous post (Kaiping 2018), I described how to convert matrix-shape word lists given in Excel into the long format LingPy and other software can work with. My motivation for this was to provide my colleague Yunus Sulistyono with a good way to compare the lexicon of his Alorese [alor1247] dialects, and to understand the relationship between them. In this post, the data is automatically cognate coded and converted into CLDF. Continue reading
A colleague of mine has recently returned from his fieldwork, where he collected data on on the dialectal variation of the Alorese language of Alor and Pantar in the East Nusa Tenggara province of Indonesia. He collected data on 13 Alorese varieties, including word list data. One obvious step for comparing the dialects is to mark which forms are obviously cognate and then use a standard tree (or network) construction algorithm to display the shared signal in the data. With standard tools and a bit of Python glue, this is an easy task. A script for 3 steps can be found in my repository on github. In this first part, I will describe how to get an Excel file into a format LingPy can deal with.