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YOUNG, THOMAS - THE FIRST WORK ON THE MATHEMATICS OF COMPARATIVE LINGUISTICS.

Remarks on the Probabilities of Error in Physical Observations, and on the Density of the Earth, Considered With Regard to the Reduction of Experiments on the Pendulum. Read January 21, 1819. (+) Postscript.

lyn46551

(London, W. Bulmer and Co., 1819). 4to. No wrappers as extracted from "Philosophical Transactions" 1819 - Part I. Pp. 70-95 a. pp. 1-4. ¶ First printing of a milestone paper in statistical linguistics as it is the first work to apply a statistical method to linguistic problems. Young considers the "problème des rencontres" and arrives at the Poisson distribution with unit parameter as a limiting case. The paper deals mainly with statistical error-problems in physics; his linguistic considerations takes up pp. 79-82.

"It has long been recognized that the demonstration of genetic affiliation between languages involves a statistical element, in that it is necessary to exclude the possibility of congruences between languages being due to chance, but it has generally been considered both difficult and unnecessary to engage in explicit statistical calculation. This is largely due to the belief that the comparative method as traditionally applied so reduces the possibility of chance as virtually to exclude it. The controversy that has latterly raged over certain claims of distant genetic relationship, where the evidence adduced is scant and no reconstruction of the history of the putatively related languages follows and confirms the claim of affiliation, has brought about a renewed interest in quantitative methods (e.g. Ringe 1992, Kessler 2001). (William J. Poser "Sir Thomas Young and Statistical Evidence of Historical Relationship").

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