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I came upon an excellent graphical representation of the linguistic distance between a number of European languages. I'm looking for a similar worldwide map of currently spoken languages. Or at least the raw data. Even if it's not truly worldwide, but just wider than the one presented here, I'd still be interested in it.

enter image description here

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    You use the term 'linguistic difference' but the legend on the graphic says 'lexical distance'. These would seem to imply very different things, why the difference in terms? – Gaston Ümlaut Apr 22 '16 at 23:24
  • Ok, judging by comments at Etymologikon and LanguageHat it's clear this map does not represent 'linguistic distance' but 'lexical distance'. It's also not clear what list/s it's based on, perhaps Swadesh? It also seems not to distinguish borrowings from inheritances so it simply shows present-day lexical similarity. – Gaston Ümlaut Apr 22 '16 at 23:41
  • @GastonÜmlaut Both concepts are new to me. Could you explain the diffrrence between the two? – Revetahw Apr 23 '16 at 2:24
  • I don't know what 'linguistic distance' would be, but from the provided answer it seems its being assumed to be some measure of overall distance between two languages in terms of their lexical inventory, their morphology, syntax, etc. Anyway, the graphic doesn't use the term 'linguistic distance'. – Gaston Ümlaut Apr 23 '16 at 23:58
  • While 'lexical distance' is also a term I hadn't heard before, it's fairly clear what it means. The source of that map indicates it's comparing lists of words from two (or more) languages and counting how many are similar forms with similar meanings. If so it includes some cognates (i.e. those whose form and meaning are still similar), borrowings, false cognates (i.e. coincidences), etc so it seems a pretty useless measure altho it might have relevance for language learning. If someone could read Tyshchenko's article (in Russian) they might be able to clear this up. – Gaston Ümlaut Apr 24 '16 at 0:13
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@Fiksdal, I am the author of this of this version,

https://alternativetransport.files.wordpress.com/2015/05/lexical-distance-among-the-languages-of-europe-2-1-mid-size.png

which is based off of Tyschenko's work, see here

Since translating Tyschenko's map, I have spent a lot of time trying to figure out how the original list was made. Not much of Tyschenkos work is online and the best content is in Ukrainian or Russian. I also tried reaching out to the University in Kiev and Linguistics Department there, with no success. And I have limited access to any paper copies of his research.

But I think I have a pretty good idea of how the data was obtained. These maps basically show the Levenshtein distances lexical distance or something similar for a list of common words. Now this list could be the Swadesh № 100 or № 207 list with counting duplicate letter shifts in different words as one LD, or it could be Dolgopolsky № 15 list or a Swadesh–Yakhontov № 35 list and just brutally counting Levenshtein LDs on those lists. Or Tyschenko's could have his own list of words and methods to calculate the lexical distance. In one paper a master matrix is described with all of the lexical distance calculations and that each where calculated, but which exact method and a list of which words is not included.

I experimented with a couple of lists and methods my self and I come fairly close to the original matrix. Working on programming it automatically (if you have same word list from different languages) so it gives you a matrix over several languages and this is a test on Germanic languages.

|En|Sc|Du|Af|Ls|Li|Wf|Sf|Nf|Lu|Ge|Yi|Da|Sw|Fa|Ic|Nb|Nn|Sr
|00|13|29|30|30|28|26|26|32|40|33|34|39|37|38|42|38|36|37 English
|13|00|33|31|34|31|26|30|33|40|36|39|42|37|42|44|41|42|36 Scotts
|29|33|00|07|15|15|28|26|25|35|29|33|38|33|37|37|39|37|41 Dutch
|30|31|07|00|17|19|30|25|23|34|31|34|34|31|36|37|35|33|40 Afrikaans
|30|34|15|17|00|22|30|24|21|36|24|30|38|34|37|37|37|32|40 Low Saxon
|28|31|15|19|22|00|28|31|30|33|28|34|37|34|40|39|38|38|44 Limburgs
|26|26|28|30|30|28|00|26|27|39|33|38|42|37|39|43|42|41|40 West Frisian
|26|30|26|25|24|31|26|00|29|41|32|32|40|37|43|45|39|36|43 Saterland Frisian
|32|33|25|23|21|30|27|29|00|41|36|37|37|36|38|37|37|34|39 North Frisian
|40|40|35|34|36|33|39|41|41|00|27|40|45|42|50|51|45|45|51 Luxembourgish
|33|36|29|31|24|28|33|32|36|27|00|30|39|34|42|40|38|37|45 German
|34|39|33|34|30|34|38|32|37|40|30|00|38|34|36|36|36|36|42 Yiddish
|39|42|38|34|38|37|42|40|37|45|39|38|00|19|24|27|04|18|42 Danish
|37|37|33|31|34|34|37|37|36|42|34|34|19|00|28|28|20|19|39 Swedish
|38|42|37|36|37|40|39|43|38|50|42|36|24|28|00|10|21|20|44 Faroese
|42|44|37|37|37|39|43|45|37|51|40|36|27|28|10|00|25|20|43 Icelandic
|38|41|39|35|37|38|42|39|37|45|38|36|04|20|21|25|00|15|41 Norwegian (bokmål)
|36|42|37|33|32|38|41|36|34|45|37|36|18|19|20|20|15|00|38 Norwegian (nynorsk)
|37|36|41|40|40|44|40|43|39|51|45|42|42|39|44|43|41|38|00 Sranan

just to compare Swedish, I get 19 (Tyschenko got 21) to Danish, 28 (26) to Icelandic, 19 (16) to Norwegian (bokmål)

by German I get, 33 (49) to English, 29 (25) to Dutch, 30 (41) to Danish

My method and list does not match up to Tyschenko's but at times I am pretty close. So, yeah a worldwide version of this is possible, have to have the raw data from the languages (word lists) and I have to define a method and work on a program that could analyse the lists (and then go through the results to check them manually)

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    thanks, will add the links I wanted to. Work progress updates I will post on the blog. – Alternative Transport Aug 27 '16 at 23:23
  • AlternativeTransport Great! :) – Revetahw Aug 27 '16 at 23:24
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    Hello @AlternativeTransport and welcome to Linguistics.SE! Great to see you here. – bytebuster Aug 28 '16 at 4:49
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    @AlternativeTransport Very interesting, could you post a link to your code and sources of words? – Matthias Schreiber Aug 29 '16 at 7:07
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    So, to code and sources of words, got nothing finished yet, but I intend to share it so that hopefully other people from other languages can DIY their own lexical distance. – Alternative Transport Aug 29 '16 at 17:26
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As noticed in this answer, Prof. Tyshchenko's work primarily targeted languages spoken in Europe, hence, most of them belong to the Indo-European family (except, probably, only Basque). Even Celtic languages form a mini-group of four.

Linguistic Distances measured
Image courtesy of. I apologize the's no English version of the map with numbers.

Although I didn't find any direct mention why it does not cover other language families (LF), I think, we may assume that Linguistic Distances (LD) of languages belonging to different LF may be too hard to measure. This is probably caused by too different linguistic tools (mind the vowels, consonants, lexical tones, intonation patterns, and also a whole set of syntactic tools).

If you check the Wikipedia article on mutually intelligible languages, you may notice that most language pairs having short LD do belong the same LF.

Also, note that Prof. Tyshchenko's work (link; sorry for it's in Ukrainian only) is not an independent research. Instead, it's rather a result of long hard work of a big group of linguists who elaborated various methodologies of how to measure the LD. And it resulted only a list of measured LD between the languages spoken in Europe.


So I think that the suggested methodology can't be automatically applied to all world's languages, hence there's probably no worldwide map you're asking for.

  • Yeah, you would probably need people with an in depth knowledge of each language group to do the research. Since these researchers knew Indo-European languages, they were equipped to work on that. I agree that it's unlikely that something like this exists for worldwide. – Revetahw Apr 22 '16 at 19:09
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    I would also glad to see further elaboration of this work. If such a research about worldwide list of languages appear sometime, I would also be very curious to look at it (and stand corrected with my current assumption). – bytebuster Apr 22 '16 at 19:26
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    Yes, it would be very cool if it existed. I'm sure it could be feasible to create it if the right researchers and experts got together. – Revetahw Apr 22 '16 at 19:28
  • So does Tyshchenko's article really talk about 'linguistic distance'? Or about 'lexical distance'? – Gaston Ümlaut Apr 24 '16 at 0:28
  • @GastonÜmlaut, I think, it's about Linguistic Distance, since it's a property of a pair of Languages. Lexical Distance seems to be a property of a pair of Lexemes. – bytebuster Apr 24 '16 at 1:43

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