Correlational Studies in Typological and Historical Linguistics

D. Robert Ladd, Seán G. Roberts, Dan Dediu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

52 Citations (Scopus)


We review a number of recent studies that have identified either correlations between different linguistic features (e.g., implicational universals) or correlations between linguistic features and nonlinguistic properties of speakers or their environment (e.g., effects of geography on vocabulary). We compare large-scale quantitative studies with more traditional theoretical and historical linguistic research and identify divergent assumptions and methods that have led linguists to be skeptical of correlational work. We also attempt to demystify statistical techniques and point out the importance of informed critiques of the validity of statistical approaches. Finally, we describe various methods used in recent correlational studies to deal with the fact that, because of contact and historical relatedness, individual languages in a sample rarely represent independent data points, and we show how these methods may allow us to explore linguistic prehistory to a greater time depth than is possible with orthodox comparative reconstruction.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)221-241
Number of pages21
JournalAnnual Review of Linguistics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 14 Jan 2015


  • color lexicon
  • databases
  • language universals
  • phylogenetics
  • quantitative methods
  • statistical inference


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