Mathematical Models of Language Change

Instructor(s): William Croft and Richard A. Blythe

This course will introduce students to basic principles and current results of the mathematical modeling of language change in a speech community, and give students the opportunity to use mathematical modeling to address a problem of their own choosing in the theory of language change. The course is co-taught by a linguist and a statistical physicist whose areas of expertise complement each other. The first half of the course will link linguistic theories of language change, particularly evolutionary theories, to mathematical and computational models. The second half of the course will present examples of the results of modeling language change. The course will also provide the opportunity for students to simulate a simple problem of their choosing in language change. Students are encouraged to work in teams with complementary expertise, and we will provide a software environment in Python, an easy-to-use, open-source programming language accessible to those with limited programming experience.

Students should be familiar with:

  • Basic linguistics concepts, in particular language variation and change, as found in an introductory linguistics course for linguistics majors, or basic courses in sociolinguistics and historical linguistics.
  • Basic arithmetic and basic algebra (enough to understand an equation), e.g. Parts I and II of W. L. Bashaw, Mathematics for statistics, and be able to interpret graphic and tabular presentation of data.
  • Basic computing concepts, e.g. the content of chapters 1-8 of Elkner et al. ( ). Python, an open-source programming language, will be used for the programming environment for the course; previous experience with Python is not necessary.