Graduation Year


Document Type

Open Access Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Science



Reader 1

Elizabeth Sweedyk (Computer Science)

Reader 2

Karen Kossuth (Pomona Linguistics)

Reader 3

Gregory Levin


Languages and species both evolve by a process of repeated divergences, which can be described with the branching of a phylogenetic tree or phylogeny. Taking advantage of this fact, it is possible to study language change using computational tree building techniques developed for evolutionary biology. Mathematical approaches to the construction of phylogenies fall into two major categories: character based and distance based methods. Character based methods were used in prior work in the application of phylogenetic methods to the Indo-European family of languages by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania. Discussion of the limitations of character-based models leads to a similar presentation of distance based models. We present an adaptation of these methods to linguistic data, and the phylogenies generated by applying these methods to several modern Germanic languages and Spanish. We conclude that distance based for phylogenies are useful for historical linguistic reconstruction, and that it would be useful to extend existing tree drawing methods to better model the evolutionary effects of language contact.

tvancort-2001-prop.pdf (54 kB)
Thesis Proposal