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Phylogenetic and areal models of Indo-European relatedness: The role of contact in reconstruction

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image of Journal of Language Contact

The Indo-European family has traditionally been viewed as a textbook example of genetically related languages, easily fit onto a family tree model. What is less often recognized, however, is that IE also provides considerable evidence for the operation of contact among these related languages, discernable in the layers of innovation that certain varieties share. In this paper, I claim that the family tree model as it is usually depicted, discretely divided and unaffected by external influence, may be a useful representation of language relatedness, but is inadequate as a model of change, especially in its inability to represent the crucial role of contact in linguistic innovation. The recognition of contact among Indo-European languages has implications not only for the geographical positioning of IE languages on the map of Eurasia, but also for general theoretical characterizations of change: the horizontal, areal nature of change implies a stratification of data, a layered distribution of archaic and innovative features, which can help us grasp where contact, and innovation, has or has not occurred.

Affiliations: 1: University of Texas at San Antonio,


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