A grammatical gender system divides a lexicon into a small number of relatively fixed grammatical categories. How similar are these gender systems across languages? To quantify the similarity, we define gender systems extensionally, thereby reducing the problem of comparisons between languages’ gender systems to cluster evaluation. We borrow a rich inventory of statistical tools for cluster evaluation from the field of community detection (Driver and Kroeber, 1932; Cattell, 1945), that enable us to craft novel information theoretic metrics for measuring similarity between gender systems. We first validate our metrics, then use them to measure gender system similarity in 20 languages. We then ask whether our gender system similarities alone are sufficient to reconstruct historical relationships between languages. Towards this end, we make phylogenetic predictions on the popular, but thorny, problem from historical linguistics of inducing a phylogenetic tree over extant Indo-European languages. Of particular interest, languages on the same branch of our phylogenetic tree are notably similar, whereas languages from separate branches are no more similar than chance.
Code-switching has long interested linguists, with computational work in particular focusing on speech and social media data (Sitaram et al., 2019). This paper contrasts these informal instances of code-switching to its appearance in more formal registers, by examining the mixture of languages in the Deutsches Textarchiv (DTA), a corpus of 1406 primarily German books from the 17th to 19th centuries. We automatically annotate and manually inspect spans of six embedded languages (Latin, French, English, Italian, Spanish, and Greek) in the corpus. We quantitatively analyze the differences between code-switching patterns in these books and those in more typically studied speech and social media corpora. Furthermore, we address the practical task of predicting code-switching from features of the matrix language alone in the DTA corpus. Such classifiers can help reduce errors when optical character recognition or speech transcription is applied to a large corpus with rare embedded languages.
While idiosyncrasies of the Chinese classifier system have been a richly studied topic among linguists (Adams and Conklin, 1973; Erbaugh, 1986; Lakoff, 1986), not much work has been done to quantify them with statistical methods. In this paper, we introduce an information-theoretic approach to measuring idiosyncrasy; we examine how much the uncertainty in Mandarin Chinese classifiers can be reduced by knowing semantic information about the nouns that the classifiers modify. Using the empirical distribution of classifiers from the parsed Chinese Gigaword corpus (Graff et al., 2005), we compute the mutual information (in bits) between the distribution over classifiers and distributions over other linguistic quantities. We investigate whether semantic classes of nouns and adjectives differ in how much they reduce uncertainty in classifier choice, and find that it is not fully idiosyncratic; while there are no obvious trends for the majority of semantic classes, shape nouns reduce uncertainty in classifier choice the most.