Reconstructing the origin of language families and variation

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingBook chapter


The chapter looks at language variation and change, and the correlation of these processes to language reconstruction and classification. The chapter gives an overview of theories, models, methods and data, describing how diversity and variation is modelled and measured for reconstruction and classification within traditional comparative and statistical, evolutionary or phylogenetic methods. First, the chapter identifies the basic principles of language change and the way in which these differ within various subdomains of language. A second part delves around the outcome of change, describing the diverse result of sound change, lexical change, and typological/ morphosyntactic change. Here, important aspects include the inherent propensity of change, the role of arbitrariness, the role of systems, horizontal transfer, and the outcome of change at macro-levels. Finally, the chapter deals with the issue of the ontological status of the reconstruction, and how various theoretical approaches may affect the interpretation of results. The chapter reviews results and controversies arising from current research.


External organisations
  • University of Zurich
  • University of Queensland
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • General Language Studies and Linguistics
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationOxford Handbook of Human Symbolic Evolution
EditorsChris Sinha, Andy Lock, Nathalie Gontier
PublisherOxford University Press
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2018
Publication categoryResearch

Publication series

NameOxford Handbooks