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Foundations of the Age-Area Hypothesis

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Abstract

The Age-Area Hypothesis (AAH) from historical linguistics is an often-used tool in reconstructing the current and past geographical distribution of culture. The AAH states that the point of origin of a group of related cultures is likely where the group's languages are most divergent or most diverse. In spite of its wide application, the hypothesis is imprecise and completely unfounded in any theory. I describe a model of the AAH based on an economic theory of mass migrations. The theory leads to a family of measures of cultural divergence, which I refer to as Dyen divergence measures after Dyen (1956). I use one measure to prove an Age-Area Theorem. The associated theory allows computation of the likelihood different locations are origin points for a group of related cultures, and can be applied recursively to yield probabilities of different historical migratory paths and timings of migratory events. The theory suggests an Occam's razor-like result in that migratory paths that are simplest are also the most likely. The paper concludes with an application to the geographical origins of the peoples speaking Semitic languages.

Suggested Citation

  • Matthew J. Baker, 2020. "Foundations of the Age-Area Hypothesis," Economics Working Paper Archive at Hunter College 451, Hunter College Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:htr:hcecon:451
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    Keywords

    comparative linguistics; age-area hypothesis cultural evolution; mass migration; long-run growth;

    JEL classification:

    • D01 - Microeconomics - - General - - - Microeconomic Behavior: Underlying Principles
    • J11 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Demographic Trends, Macroeconomic Effects, and Forecasts
    • J15 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of Minorities, Races, Indigenous Peoples, and Immigrants; Non-labor Discrimination
    • N9 - Economic History - - Regional and Urban History

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