Workshop Panel at the 24th International Conference on Historical Linguistics

(Australian National University in Canberra, Australia from July 1st-5th 2019.)

Recent years have seen an influx of computational and phylogenetic methods into historical linguistics. These “phylolinguistic’’ approaches have been used to explore the origins and subgrouping of language families including Austronesian (Gray, Drummond, and Greenhill 2009), Bantu (Grollemund et al. 2015), Indo-European (Bouckaert et al. 2012; Chang and Michael 2014), Pama-Nyungan (Bowern and Atkinson 2012; Bouckaert, Bowern, and Atkinson 2018), Timor-Alor-Pantar (Robinson and Holton 2012) and Uralic (Honkola et al. 2013). Other studies have investigated the stability of linguistic features (Dediu and Levinson 2012; Greenhill et al. 2017) or explored the evolution of language systems from colors (Haynie and Bowern 2016), numbers (Calude and Verkerk 2016), word order (Dunn et al. 2011) and grammatical features (Dunn et al. 2017; Widmer et al. 2017).

Alongside these methods, large linguistic datasets are now becoming increasingly available in the form of open and web accessible lexical, typological and phonological databases. This deluge of data is already demanding appropriate computational tools to process and analyse them in a reproducible and appropriate manner. New tools are being designed for all aspects of the historical linguistics pipeline from speeding up sound correspondence identification (Kondrak 2003; J.-M. List et al. 2018) and automating cognate judgements (List, Greenhill, and Gray 2017; Jäger, List, and Sofroniev 2017; Rama et al. 2018; Arnaud, Beck, and Kondrak 2017), to making cross-linguistic comparison more robust semantically (e.g. List et al. 2018; List et al., f.c.), to designing more effective ways to store data (Forkel et al., f.c.)

However, this influx of methods and tools has not been without controversy and there is much ongoing debate about the appropriateness and effectiveness of these methods (e.g. Bowern 2017; Jacques and List, f.c.).

This workshop aims to:

  1. highlight the latest phylolinguistic results from a range of language families exploring all aspects of language change
  2. showcase novel approaches and quantitative tools for exploring language history,
  3. provide a robust forum for debating the strengths and weaknesses of these approaches.

To Participate:

Please join us if you are interested in this topic. To contribute a talk to this session, submit a paper abstract to the conference through the general ICHL paper submission process (

When doing this, select “Computational and Phylogenetic Historical Linguistics” as the workshop



Arnaud, Adam S., David Beck, and Grzegorz Kondrak. 2017. “Identifying Cognate Sets Across Dictionaries of Related Languages.” In Proceedings of the 2017 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing, 2509–18. Association for Computational Linguistics.

Bouckaert, Remco R., Claire Bowern, and Quentin D. Atkinson. 2018. “The Origin and Expansion of Pama–Nyungan Languages Across Australia.” Nature Ecology & Evolution. Springer US.

Bouckaert, Remco R, P. Lemey, Michael Dunn, Simon J. Greenhill, Alexander V Alekseyenko, a. J. Drummond, Russell D. Gray, M. a. Suchard, and Quentin D. Atkinson. 2012. “Mapping the Origins and Expansion of the Indo-European Language Family.” Science 337 (6097): 957–60.

Bowern, Claire. 2017. “<i>The Indo-European Controversy</I> and Bayesian Phylogenetic Methods.” Diachronica 34 (3): 421–36.

Bowern, Claire, and Quentin D. Atkinson. 2012. “Computational Phylogenetics and the Internal Structure of Pama-Nyungan.” Language 88 (4): 817–45.

Calude, Andreea S., and Annemarie Verkerk. 2016. “The Typology and Diachrony of Higher Numerals in Indo-European: A Phylogenetic Comparative Study.” Journal of Language Evolution, no. April: lzw003.

Chang, Will, and Lev Michael. 2014. “A Relaxed Admixture Model of Language Contact” 4: 1–26.

Dediu, Dan, and Stephen C Levinson. 2012. “Abstract Profiles of Structural Stability Point to Universal Tendencies, Family-Specific Factors, and Ancient Connections Between Languages.” PloS One 7 (9): e45198.

Dunn, Michael, Tonya Kim Dewey, Carlee Arnett, Thórhallur Eythórsson, and Jóhanna Barðdal. 2017. “Dative Sickness : A Phylogenetic Analysis of Argument Structure Evolution in Germanic.” Language 93 (1): e1–e22.

Dunn, Michael, Simon J. Greenhill, S. C. Levinson, and Russell D. Gray. 2011. “Evolved Structure of Language Shows Lineage-Specific Trends in Word-Order Universals.” Nature 473 (7345). Nature Publishing Group: 79–82.

Forkel, R, Johann-Mattis List, Simon J. Greenhill, Christoph Rzymski, Sebastian Bank, Michael Cysouw, Harald Hammarström, Haspelmath Martin, Kaiping Gereon, and Russell D. Gray. n.d. “Cross-Linguistic Data Formats, Advancing Data Sharing and Re-Use in Comparative Linguistics.”

Gray, Russell D., Alexei J Drummond, and Simon J. Greenhill. 2009. “Language Phylogenies Reveal Expansion Pulses and Pauses in Pacific Settlement.” Science 323 (5913): 479–83.

Greenhill, Simon J., Chieh-Hsi Wu, Xia Hua, Michael Dunn, Stephen C. Levinson, and Russell D. Gray. 2017. “Evolutionary Dynamics of Language Systems.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 201700388.

Grollemund, Rebecca, Simon Branford, Koen Bostoen, Andrew Meade, Chris Venditti, and Mark Pagel. 2015. “Bantu Expansion Shows Habitat Alters the Route and Pace of Human Dispersals.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA.

Haynie, Hannah J, and Claire Bowern. 2016. “Phylogenetic Approach to the Evolution of Color Term Systems.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 113 (48): 13666–71.

Honkola, T, O Vesakoski, K Korhonen, J Lehtinen, K Syrjänen, and N Wahlberg. 2013. “Cultural and Climatic Changes Shape the Evolutionary History of the Uralic Languages.” Journal of Evolutionary Biology, May, 1–10.

Jacques, Guillaume, and Johann-Mattis List. n.d. “Save the Trees: Why We Need Tree Models in Linguistic Reconstruction (and When We Should Apply Them).” Journal of Historical Linguistics 8 (2): ??–??

Jäger, Gerhard, Johann-Mattis List, and Pavel Sofroniev. 2017. “Using Support Vector Machines and State-of-the-Art Algorithms for Phonetic Alignment to Identify Cognates in Multi-Lingual Wordlists.” In Proceedings of the 15th Conference of the European Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics. Long Papers, 1204–15. Valencia: Association for Computational Linguistics.

Kondrak, Grzegorz. 2003. “Identifying Complex Sound Correspondences in Bilingual Wordlists.” In Computational Linguistics and Intelligent Text Processing, edited by Alexander Gelbukh, 432–43. Berlin: Springer.

List, Johann Mattis, Michael Cysouw, Simon Greenhill, and Robert Forkel, eds. 2018. Concepticon. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.

List, Johann-Mattis, Simon J. Greenhill, Cormac Anderson, Thomas Mayer, Tiago Tresoldi, and Robert Forkel. n.d. “CLICS². An Improved Database of Cross-Linguistic Colexifications: Assembling Lexical Data with Help of Cross-Linguistic Data Formats.” Linguistic Typology 22 (2): ??–??

List, Johann-Mattis, Simon J Greenhill, and Russell D Gray. 2017. “The Potential of Automatic Word Comparison for Historical Linguistics.” Edited by Robert C Berwick. PLOS ONE 12 (1): e0170046.

List, Johann-Mattis, Mary Walworth, Simon J. Greenhill, Tiago Tresoldi, and Robert Forkel. 2018. “Sequence Comparison in Computational Historical Linguistics.” Journal of Language Evolution 3 (2).

Rama, Taraka, Johann-Mattis List, Johannes Wahle, and Gerhard Jäger. 2018. “Are Automatic Methods for Cognate Detection Good Enough for Phylogenetic Reconstruction in Historical Linguistics?” In Proceedings of the North American Chapter of the Association of Computational Linguistics, 393–400.

Robinson, Laura C, and Gary Holton. 2012. “Internal Classification of the Alor-Pantar Language Family Using Computational Methods Applied to the Lexicon.” Language Dynamics and Change 2: 1–27.

Widmer, Manuel, Sandra Auderset, Johanna Nichols, Paul Widmer, and Balthasar Bickel. 2017. “NP Recursion over Time: Evidence from Indo-European.” Language 93 (4): 799–826.