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Measures of lexical distance between languages


  • Petroni, Filippo
  • Serva, Maurizio


The idea of measuring distance between languages seems to have its roots in the work of the French explorer Dumont D’Urville (1832) [13]. He collected comparative word lists for various languages during his voyages aboard the Astrolabe from 1826 to 1829 and, in his work concerning the geographical division of the Pacific, he proposed a method for measuring the degree of relation among languages. The method used by modern glottochronology, developed by Morris Swadesh in the 1950s, measures distances from the percentage of shared cognates, which are words with a common historical origin. Recently, we proposed a new automated method which uses the normalized Levenshtein distances among words with the same meaning and averages on the words contained in a list. Recently another group of scholars, Bakker et al. (2009) [8] and Holman et al. (2008) [9], proposed a refined version of our definition including a second normalization. In this paper we compare the information content of our definition with the refined version in order to decide which of the two can be applied with greater success to resolve relationships among languages.

Suggested Citation

  • Petroni, Filippo & Serva, Maurizio, 2010. "Measures of lexical distance between languages," Physica A: Statistical Mechanics and its Applications, Elsevier, vol. 389(11), pages 2280-2283.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:phsmap:v:389:y:2010:i:11:p:2280-2283
    DOI: 10.1016/j.physa.2010.02.004

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    Cited by:

    1. Isphording, Ingo E. & Piopiunik, Marc & Rodríguez-Planas, Núria, 2016. "Speaking in numbers: The effect of reading performance on math performance among immigrants," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 139(C), pages 52-56.
    2. repec:zbw:rwirep:0274 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. Ingo Eduard Isphording & Sebastian Otten, 2013. "The Costs of Babylon—Linguistic Distance in Applied Economics," Review of International Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 21(2), pages 354-369, May.
    4. repec:zbw:rwirep:0337 is not listed on IDEAS
    5. Isphording, Ingo E. & Otten, Sebastian, 2014. "Linguistic barriers in the destination language acquisition of immigrants," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 105(C), pages 30-50.
    6. repec:eee:phsmap:v:484:y:2017:i:c:p:152-162 is not listed on IDEAS
    7. Erkan Gören, 2013. "Economic Effects of Domestic and Neighbouring Countries’ Cultural Diversity," Working Papers V-352-13, University of Oldenburg, Department of Economics, revised Mar 2013.
    8. repec:zbw:hohpro:352 is not listed on IDEAS
    9. repec:old:wpaper:352 is not listed on IDEAS
    10. Ibrahim Bousmah & Gilles Grenier & David Gray, 2018. "Linguistic Distance, Languages of Work and Wages of Immigrants in Montreal," Working Papers 1805E, University of Ottawa, Department of Economics.


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