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Syntactic Phylogenetic Trees

Shu, Kevin and Aziz, Sharjeel and Huynh, Vy-Luan and Warrick, David and Marcolli, Matilde (2018) Syntactic Phylogenetic Trees. In: Foundations of Mathematics and Physics One Century After Hilbert. Springer , Cham, Switzerland, pp. 417-441. ISBN 978-3-319-64812-5.

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In light of recent controversies surrounding the use of computational methods for the reconstruction of phylogenetic trees of language families (especially the Indo-European family), a possible approach based on syntactic information, complementing other linguistic methods, appeared as a promising possibility, largely developed in recent years in Longobardi’s Parametric Comparison Method. In this paper we identify several serious problems that arise in the use of syntactic data from the SSWL database for the purpose of computational phylogenetic reconstruction. We show that the most naive approach fails to produce reliable linguistic phylogenetic trees. We identify some of the sources of the observed problems and we discuss how they may be, at least partly, corrected by using additional information, such as prior subdivision into language families and subfamilies, and a better use of the information about ancient languages. We also describe how the use of phylogenetic algebraic geometry can help in estimating to what extent the probability distribution at the leaves of the phylogenetic tree obtained from the SSWL data can be considered reliable, by testing it on phylogenetic trees established by other forms of linguistic analysis. In simple examples, we find that, after restricting to smaller language subfamilies and considering only those SSWL parameters that are fully mapped for the whole subfamily, the SSWL data match extremely well reliable phylogenetic trees, according to the evaluation of phylogenetic invariants. This is a promising sign for the use of SSWL data for linguistic phylogenetics. We also argue how dependencies and nontrivial geometry/topology in the space of syntactic parameters would have to be taken into consideration in phylogenetic reconstructions based on syntactic data. A more detailed analysis of syntactic phylogenetic trees and their algebro-geometric invariants will appear elsewhere [33].

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Additional Information:© 2018 Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature. First Online: 27 May 2018. The first author is supported by a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship at Caltech. Part of this work was performed as part of the activities of the last author’s Mathematical and Computational Linguistics lab and CS101/Ma191 class at Caltech. The last author is partially supported by NSF grants DMS-1201512 and PHY-1205440 and DMS-1707882.
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Caltech Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF)UNSPECIFIED
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20180529-110159594
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Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:86661
Deposited By: Tony Diaz
Deposited On:29 May 2018 18:08
Last Modified:03 Oct 2019 19:46

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