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On the power-law distribution of language family sizes

MPG-Autoren
http://pubman.mpdl.mpg.de/cone/persons/resource/persons73038

Wichmann,  Søren
Department of Linguistics, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Max Planck Society;

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Zitation

Wichmann, S. (2005). On the power-law distribution of language family sizes. Journal of Linguistics, 41(1), 117-131.


Zitierlink: http://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-0010-02E2-8
Zusammenfassung
When the sizes of language families of the world, measured by the number of languages contained in each family, are plotted in descending order on a diagram where the x-axis represents the place of each family in the rank-order (the largest family having rank 1, the next-largest, rank 2, and so on) and the y-axis represents the number of languages in the family determining the rank-ordering, it is seen that the distribution closely approximates a curve defined by the formula y=ax(-b). Such 'power-law' distributions are known to characterize a wide range of social, biological, and physical phenomena and are essentially of a stochastic nature. It is suggested that the apparent power-law distribution of language family sizes is of relevance when evaluating overall classifications of the world's languages, for the analysis of taxonomic structures, for developing hypotheses concerning the prehistory of the world's languages, and for modelling the future extinction of language families. [References: 23]