Areal dependency of consonant inventories

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This paper discusses the impact of linguistic contact on the make-up of consonantal inventories of the languages of Eurasia. New measures for studying the importance of language contact for the development of phonological inventories are proposed, and two empirical studies are reported. First, using two different measures of dissimilarity of phonemic inventories (the Jaccard dissimilarity measure and the novel Closest-Relative Cumulative Jaccard Dissimilarity measure), it is demonstrated that language contact—operationalized as languages being connected by an edge in a neighbor network—makes a significant contribution to between-inventory differences when phylogenetic variables are controlled for. Second, a novel measure of the exposure of a language to a particular segment—the Neighbor-Pressure Metric (NPM)—is proposed as a means of quantifying language contact with respect to phonological inventories. It is shown that addition of NPM helps achieve higher prediction accuracy than using bare phylogenetic data and that distributions of different consonants display a different degree of dependence on language-contact processes. Finally, more complex models for predicting consonant inventories are briefly explored, demonstrating the presence of complex non-linear relationships between inventories of neighboring languages.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)104–126
JournalLanguage Dynamics and Change
Publication statusPublished - 17 May 2019
Externally publishedYes


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