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).
LexStat class for cognate detection confuses those who want to apply it, since the name of the Python class is the same as the name of one of the methods the class provides, but the class can be used for other types of cognate detection as well. I recommend all users of LingPy that they give a read to our most recent tutorial on LingPy’s cognate detection method (List et al. 2018), since the three most important methods are discussed there in detail, namely the edit distance method for cognate detection, which makes use of the simple, normalized edit distance, the SCA method, based on the Sound-Class-Based Alignment algorithm (List 2014), and the LexStat method (ibid.). Applying these methods in LingPy is fairly simple and described in detail in our aforementioned tutorial. But LingPy offers an additional method for cognate detection that has the advantage of being extremely fast and thus especially suitable for exploratory data analysis of very large datasets. This method is called
turchin in LingPy, named after the first author of a paper presenting the method (Turchin et al. 2010), but the method itself, which Turchin et al. name “Consonant Class Matching” method, goes originally back to Dolgopolsky (1964)), and has long since been implemented as a part of the STARLING software package (http://starling.rinet.ru/program.php). Continue reading