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  One of the major aims in historical linguistics is to chart the sources of common heritage obtaining between individual languages. Among the numerous methods available, one technique which gained some currency from the 1950s to the 1970s is a statistical procedure known as glottochronology (Greek, ‘study of tongue time’). A formula is applied to provide an estimation of the time when two related languages split away from a common parent. A fundamental assumption is that the original vocabulary of a given language decays over time, being steadily supplanted by borrowings from other languages. In particular, there is supposed to be a core vocabulary, common to all languages, which comprises such semantic categories as family terms, body parts and pronouns. In one version of the formula, it is estimated that the replacement rate for this core vocabulary is 19% per millenium. When we wish to determine the time at which two languages parted company, we must enter into the formula a number of factors, including the number of cognates, that is, the number of core vocabulary items they have in common. Despite early enthusiasm, the popularity of glottochronology has waned greatly in recent years, since the original formula made too many unwarranted assumptions and simplifications about the way languages actually change. MS  



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