Martin W. Lewis, senior Lecturer, History, Stanford University
Asya Pereltsvaig, Lecturer, Linguistics, Stanford University
Can language spread be modeled using computational techniques designed to trace the diffusion of viruses? A recent article in the New York Times announced that biologists had solved one of the major riddles of human prehistory, the origins of the Indo-European language family, by applying methodologies from epidemiology. In actuality, this research, published in Science, does nothing of the kind. In this talk, we show that the assumptions on which it rests are demonstrably false, the data that it uses are woefully incomplete and biased, and the model that it employs generates error at every turn, undermining the knowledge generated by more than two centuries of research in historical linguistics and threatening our understanding of the human past.
free and open to the public