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If it is really possible to obtain accurate dates for linguistic divergence from linguistic data, that would be very nice.
It would provide a useful new tool for the study of prehistory.
For example, studies show that English preserved only 68% of its basic vocabulary over a 1,000 year period, while Icelandic preserved 97%.
Time depths calculated using the "standard" rate proved to be far off the mark in a number of test cases.
However, the reactions of historical linguists to this paper have generally been skeptical. Languages change in a number of ways: words are replaced by entirely different words, a word shifts in meaning, one grammatical construction is replaced by another.
Much language change is systematic: a certain sound, in a certain context, changes into another sound in every word in which it occurs in that context.
To apply the technique, you take a list of basic vocabulary known as the Swadesh list after Morris Swadesh, the linguist who proposed glottochronology, and you translate it into the languages you are working with. For example, if you were to compare English and German, you would record that English "foot" and German "fuss" are cognate while English "dog" and German "hund" are not.
When you're done, you count up the number of cognates and compute the fraction of words that are cognate.
One reason is that we're generally skeptical about any sort of purely lexical method such as this because we know that lexical replacement is much more subject to cultural influence, external and internal, than other aspects of language change.This they take to support the theory that Indo-European originated in Anatolia and that Indo-European languages arrived in Europe with the spread of agriculture.They take this to argue against the alternative "Kurgan hypothesis", according to which the "Kurgan Culture" of the steppes was Indo-European speaking, though they say that it is consistent with the view that the Kurgan people represented a branch of Indo-European.For example, the Proto-Indo-European word for "dog" was something like *kuon.
(The star indicates that this is a hypothetical form.) We reconstruct this form from attested (actually recorded) forms like Greek by asking what proto-form would yield the attested forms after undergoing the sound changes observed in the various languages, and also taking into account changes in word-formation.
426, 27 November) contains a paper entitled "Language Tree Divergence Times Support the Anatolian Theory of Indo-European Origin" by Russell D. Atkinson that has attracted a good deal of interest.