ICHL 22 workshop proposal: “Non-cladistic approaches to language genealogy”


Siva Kalyan (Australian National University):   siva.kalyan@anu.edu.au
Alexandre François (CNRS–LaCiTO, ANU):   francois@vjf.cnrs.fr

To be held at the 22nd International Conference on Historical Linguistics (ICHL22), 27–31 July 2015, Naples

Important dates:

  • Deadline for workshop proposals:  20 September 2014
  • Notification of acceptance of workshop proposals:  20 October 2014
  • Deadline for submission of abstracts for general sessions and workshops:  30 January 2015
  • Notification of acceptance of papers for general sessions and workshops:  30 March 2015


Ever since it was popularised by August Schleicher (1853, 1873), the family-tree model has been the dominant paradigm for representing the historical relations among the languages in a family.

The tree model is not without its strengths. Not only does it represent patterns of relatedness among languages, but it also commits itself to reconstructing the sequence of historical and social events that gave rise to these patterns. Further, the formal simplicity of cladistic representations makes it possible to apply powerful computational techniques from biology, which have become increasingly popular in recent years (Ringe et al. 2002, Gray et al. 2010, among many others).

However, the advantages of the tree model come at the cost of making a very restrictive assumption: namely, that language families evolve primarily by splitting, with subsequent loss of contact. Put another way, the tree model assumes that once two speech varieties have started to diverge, it is no longer possible for innovations to diffuse from one to the other. This assumption excludes the possibility of overlapping subgroups.

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