New Evidence from Linguistic Phylogenetics Identifies Limits to Punctuational Change

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Since the early 1970s, biologists have debated whether evolution is punctuated by speciation events with bursts of cladogenetic changes, or whether evolution tends to be of a more gradual, anagenetic nature. A similar discussion among linguists has barely begun, but the present results suggest that there is also room for controversy over this issue in linguistics. The only previous study correlated the number of nodes in linguistic phylogenies with branch lengths and found support for punctuated equilibrium. We replicate this result for branch lengths, but find no support for punctuated equilibrium using a different, automated measure of linguistic divergence and a much larger data set. With the automated measure, segments of trees containing more nodes show no greater divergence from an outgroup than segments containing fewer nodes.

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