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Language trees support the express-train sequence of Austronesian expansion

Gray, R.D. & F.M. Jordan. (2000) - Language trees support the express-train sequence of Austronesian expansion. Nature, 405, 1052-1055.

Keywords: russell gray, language evolution, phylogenetics, austronesian, fiona jordan,


Languages, like molecules, document evolutionary history. Darwin observed that evolutionary change in languages greatly resembled the processes of biological evolution: inheritance from a common ancestor and convergent evolution operate in both. Despite many suggestions, few attempts have been made to apply the phylogenetic methods used in biology to linguistic data. Here we report a parsimony analysis of a large language data set. We use this analysis to test competing hypotheses - the "expresstrain" and the "entangled-bank" models for the colonization of the Pacific by Austronesian-speaking peoples. The parsimony analysis of a matrix of 77 Austronesian languages with 5,185 lexical items produced a single most-parsimonious tree. The express-train model was converted into an ordered geographical character and mapped onto the language tree. We found that the topology of the language tree was highly compatible with the express-train model.

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