ModelGloss aims to:
  • investigate language change with tools and methods inspired by evolutionary biology;
  • employ similarities and differences in the syntax and morphology of languages in order to probe genetic relatedness and effects of geographical proximity between languages;
  • combine qualitative and quantitative methods in order to uncover what is specific to the evolution of languages as opposed to the evolution of species;
  • assess the historical signal contained in linguistic data from different levels.

The project uses tools inspired from evolutionary biology in order to produce a reliable model of the interplay between genetic and areal stability of morphosyntactic characteristics, which is crucial for a parameter-based glossogeny. The main objectives will be to test:
  1. character (in)dependence and
  2. genetic and areal stability of morphosyntactic characteristics, in order to develop an unbiased method for reconstruction of historical relationships between languages, which is ultimately reflected in
  3. parameter hierarchies with descriptive, explanatory and historical adequacy-
  4. a model of the interaction between genetic and areal factors in language change, which captures the role of the various structural and socio- historical variables in predicting possible and impossible transfers and retentions in different historical/geographical settings.


The most important result of the project will be a novel method for the construction of phylogenetic trees of languages, which combines biological methods in the study of language change with recent advances in formal comparative syntax for
  • the construction of parametric hierarchies/networks with no biases or redundancies,
  • the objective quantification of diachronic stability/historical depth of individual characters in a number of different domains,
  • the mapping between types of parameters and modes of transmission (genetic/vertical vs. geographic/horizontal and the corresponding rates of change),
  • phylogenies, controlling for areal effects and an innovative modeling of possible and impossible syntactic transfers.

We are applying our methods to reconstruct the historical evolution of Indo- European, one of the world’s best-studied families, as well as the 100 language sample of WALS ( Our goal is to investigate the effectiveness and the suitability of our methods when applied to different scales of analysis (micro-, meso-, macro-variation).


University of Crete
Department of Philology
Division of Linguistics
Τ (+30) 2831 077277

University of Crete
Department of Biology
Τ (+30) 2810 394067