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.
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.