Printer Friendly

Quantitative linguistics. (Reviews).

Quantitative linguistics. By Marie Tesitelova. Pp. 253. Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins. 1992.

This is the thirty-seventh volume of the series "Linguistic and Literary Studies in Eastern Europe (LLSEE)". The idea of this series is to give Western linguists solid information on recent developments in the countries of the former USSR (i.e., Russia, Belarus. Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijn, Armenia, Georgia, Moldava, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia), Poland, the former Czeehoslovakia, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Mongolia, Vietnam, and China (although the latter three are not European countries at all). This is a good idea since the majority of Western linguists are not well informed about recent developments in linguistics in the countries of the former communist block. The author of this book knows these developments well, although some important issues in the countries of the former USSR have escaped her attention. The book was translated from Czech, which may explain some clumsy expressions (e.g., p. 116).

The book is divided into seven main parts with more than a hundred subdivisions. It is well edited and easy to use. It has a "Name Index" and a "Subject Index". Although the number of references in the list of references is great (611), we will see later that this list misses some important entries. Nevertheless, the list of references is useful and interesting for all linguists with a potential research interest in quantitative linguistics, since it covers all the main bibliographical items. We can also say that, in its turn, the list can be considered as a list of researchers. Unfortunately, one finds very few names of scholars who have used qualitative methods in studying Turkic, Tungus-Manchurian, Finno-Ugric, Palco-Asiatic, and Asian languages. There is insufficient space for me to name all of those missing, but the complete list can be found elsewhere (Tambovtsev 1984a, 1985b, 1986a. 1990b, 1991a).

In the first chapter, the author discusses the notion of quantitative linguistics, which she understands as the study of language (natural or artificial) using quantitative methods (statistics and probability calculus). She defines the scope and aim of quantitative linguistics as the application of quantitative methods to study the transition of quantitative changes into quantitative ones. Tesitelova is correct in stating that studying language by quantitative methods means not only counting the frequency of occurrence of language units of different levels, but also measuring them in the way done by J. Rehak in social science (p. 13). To my mind this is not a relevant explanation for a linguist. It should have been said more explicitly that quantitative methods reveal data which are hidden, revealing regularities and tendencies which exist in a language but are not immediately obvious. They can manifest themselves only through quantitative methods, e.g., the frequency of a certain phoneme. Thus, it leads us t o the conclusion that both the instrument and the result of the investigation are important, though the author claims that from her point of view quantitative methods are nothing but merely an instrument. This may be right, but only to some extent. Whether one digs a pit with a spade or with an excavator, the result is the same, i.e., the pit. If we do not take into account the energy and the time spent, then it is possible to claim that the instrument does not matter. However, in my opinion, the situation here is rather different. It resembles more the one where the instrument produces different results. One can play Bach on a Russian balalaika (with three strings) or Vogul violin (with one string) and then claim that the result, i.e., music, is the same as the music produced by an organ. In my opinion the aim of quantitative linguistics is twofold: first to find the hidden linguistic characteristics and then to interpret the results; and second to show a linguist why unsophisticated statistical tools (a mer e sum, mean, or percentage) are not enough and may obscure or falsify a further linguistic interpretation. I have argued elsewhere (Tambovtsev 1983, 1986b, 1988, 1992b) that many traditional linguists investigate linguistic units of different levels (phonemes, morphemes, word-forms, syntactic and semantic constructions, etc.) based on small unrepresentative sample sizes without reliable statistical tools and then claim a solid linguistic interpretation. One of the drawbacks of the book under review is that the author does not mention the third aim of quantitative linguistics, which is to establish a good reconstruction of the typology, i.e., branching structure, of a language family tree for a group of related languages, as done in the works of David Sankoff (1972) and Sheila Embleton (1983, 1985, 1986). These works are not analyzed in the book. I wonder if Tesitelova does not know of them, or if she considers it unimportant to discuss them, although in my opinion they show a new (proper and pioneering) appro ach, not only in quantitative but also general linguistics. I am sure that new investigations in this direction will lead to some extremely interesting and fruitful results. Thus, at least she should have mentioned it, even if she did not appraise it. Neither does she mention another fruitful and interesting approach whose methods allow a linguist to establish exact typological distances between language families or to measure the compactness of language families. It has been possible to calculate thc distances between the languages of the Finno-Ugric family (Tambovtsev 1983, 1991b, 1992a) and to compute the compactness of the Turkic, Tungus-Manchurian, Paleo-Asiatic, Finno-Ugric, and Indo-European language families and even such super-families as Ural-Altaic and Nostratic (Tombovtsev 1990a). The author discusses typological statistics (Chapter 4, pp. 177-181), but devotes only several pages to it and examines it only with respect to language universals. Here she describes only the old and well-known results of J. Greenberg, V. Krupa. V. Skalicka, J. Kramsky, A.L. Kroeber, and C.D. Chretien, but does not tackle or even mention the works of more modern investigators (e.g., L.G. Zubkova, A.S. Gerd, M. Remmel, V.M. Andrjushchenko, K.B. Bektaev, Y.A. Tambovtsev, A.V. Zubov, G.J. Martynenko) who have introduced some recent valuable results in quantitative linguistics.

Speaking in general about new books on quantitative linguistics, the typical linguist will be asking by now whether or not this book is frightening and just how much previous knowledge of mathematics is really necessary as a prerequisite. As far as this book is concerned, from the point of view of mathematics the typical linguist would probably understand it, while for a specialist in mathematical or quantitative linguistics it may seem a bit too simple. At the same time this may be an advantage, because it may serve as an understandable beginning textbook for a student who is interested in quantitative linguisttics.

The second part of the book is dedicated to research methods. The author discusses in detail the units of population in morphological, lexical, and other domains of quantitative linguistics. In lexical statistics, instead of defining a word as a unit. Tesitelova. cuts short all the definitions of word by accepting a rather formal definition of it, i.e., as a graphic unit - a letter or a group of letters between two spaces. This may be all right for well- known and well - established languages such as English, Russian, French, Czech, Hungarian, Polish, etc., but it can hardly be applied to Mansi (Vogul), Jug (Ket), etc., or even Japanese, where some particles are considered by some linguists as part of the word while by others as separate words. One also encounters more or less the same problem in German. The author does not show whether she considers such German verbs as angehen, aufbauen, and einschlagen as one word or two. How many words should be counted in the following sentences? Was geht dich das an? De r Plan baut darauf auf, da[beta]....Die Neuigkeit schlug wie eine Bombe ein.

It is good that Tesitelova considers another important issue which is too often ignored by the typical linguist: sampling of material (pp. 24-31). The reader may find a lot of valuable information on how to sample the material in order to obtain reliable research results. It is a pity that typical linguists do not pay much attention to this crucial point, and then find themselves in a position where their research is statistically unreliable, and therefore unreliable from the point of view of the linguistic interpretation. Reading linguistic investigations outside the field of quantitative linguistics, one can vividly see that the typical linguist is apt to take into account anything (style, individual style, all peculiarities of slang and dialect, etc.), but not the sample size or the manner of sampling (systematic, random, or cluster sampling) which may influence the results (Tambovtsev 1986b, 1991a). Thus the book is a reliable source of information for any linguist on how to select the material for resear ch in a scientifically appropriate way (pp. 32-46). It should be mentioned that in the natural sciences the principle of correct sampling is always observed. The use of statistics as it is begins at the end of Chapter 2, which deals with the First, Second, and Third Zipf's Laws, mean, dispersion, frequency distribution, correlation and some concepts of information theory (pp. 50-66). All in all, one can state that it is a good description of the usual statistical methods used in quantitative linguistics.

The third chapter of this book depicts the main areas of quantitative linguistics. In connection with these areas. I should mention that when I began to study the literature on quantitative linguistics as a post-graduate student in 1973, I noticed that the first works in it began to be published about a century ago, through the great impetus it had had in the 40s and 50s, and in the 60s it had undergone great development and achieved a peak, especially in the field of phonostatistics. However, then the wide, fast stream of publications began to cease. It now lacked constructive ideas. The upper crust was removed, the first results received - but many linguists did not bother to go deeper. Analyzing the works of those linguists who actively studied phonostatistical problems (especially Soviet colleagues), I could vividly see that their interests had shifted back to their previous tasks. I guessed that this area of linguistics was not fashionable any more. Now in the countries of the former USSR, only the schol ars of the "Statistics of Speech" Group continue with research on Germanic, Slavic, Romance, Finno-Ugric, Turkic, Tungus-Manchurian, Paleo-Asiatic and some other languages by quantitative methods, but their number decreases with every year. In my opinion, the same trend can be observed in the West. It can be seen in the chapter under consideration, which deals with 1) lexical; 2) grammatical (morphological and syntactic); and 30 semantic statistics. Lexical statistics is represented by the different sorts of frequency dictionaries, frequency lists and concordances. However, one finds no discussion of the frequency dictionaries of the Finno-Ugric, Baltic, and Asian languages, nor are they in the general list of frequency dictionaries (pp. 69-70), although the author suddenly discusses them later (pp. 98-100).

Speaking about one of the main problems of lexical statistics, i.e., the richness of vocabulary, Tesitelova dwells upon the formula of P. Guirad (p. 76), who introduced the notion of concentration of vocabulary (pp. 77-78). His formula was later developed by 3. Mistrik (p. 79). Tesitelova also introduces her own formula (p. 80). She claims that when studying the richness of vocabulary, one should take into account 1) the repetition of words in a text; 2) the dispersion of the vocabulary; and 3) the concentration of the vocabulary (pp. 80-82). A student of linguistics can find lots of valuable information on Slavic languages: the lexical statistics of Czech (pp. 84-85), Slovak (p. 86), Russian and Ukrainian (p. 87), Polish (p. 88), and over Slavic languages (p. 89). The description of Slavic lexical statistics is more complete than in the other works of this type published in the West. The author gives a detailed outline of lexical statistics concerning the Germanic languages (German, p. 90; English, p. 92; ot her Germanic languages, p. 94). The discussion of publications on lexical statistics on the Romance languages include French (p. 95), Spanish (p. 96), Rumanian (p. 97), and Italian (p. 97). Tesitelova also describes the results of investigations in lexical statistics which are usually unknown to the general linguist, e.g., Baltic (Latvian, p. 98), Finno-Ugric (Estonian, Hungarian, and Finnish, pp. 98-99). The only Asian language represented in this chapter is Chinese (p. 100, though the author should have mentioned the solid investigations in Kazakh. One can find the list of publications on Kazakh, Uzbek, and some other Turkic languages elsewhere (cf. Tambovtsev 1986a, 1987, 1988). The same drawback must be mentioned with regard to the grammatical, semantic, and other domains of quantitative statistics. Unfortunately, the limited space of a review does not allow detailed analysis of morphological and syntactic statistics or of semantic statistics, although one can notice that the author has narrowed her descr iption mainly to Czech 9pp. 110-1140, Slovak (p. 115), Russian and the other Slavic languages (p. 115), while of the other languages she only considers English (p. 117), German (pp. 117-118), Latin, Rumanian, and Latvian (p. 118), devoting to each only a pair of lines. In the field of syntactic statistics she also deals only with Czech (pp. 127-129), Slovak (p. 130), Russian (p. 130), and Polish (p. 131). In my opinion, she should have mentioned at least several important works (e.g., Peshehak et al. 1979), in which a group of Ukrainian linguists presented the main statistical schemes of the Ukrainian word. A more detailed account of this and other works of Ukrainian colleagues and other linguists of the former USSR can be found elsewhere (Tambovtsev 1991a). The author should have known the works in statistical syntactic analysis because they are few. Computers are seldom used in this field, while the majority of articles and books is devoted to lexical statistics. This is why it is quite strange that such a well-informed scholar as Tesitelova would forget to mention one of the most interesting works in the field of syntactic statistics, Martynenko (1983), where the feature domain was constructed on the basis of the linear and hierarchical construction of the sentence. His multi-dimensional classification space was based on the Russian prose of 86 writers (for details and exact references of items referred to below, see Tambovtsev 1991a: 149-151). Some of the titles of the articles in Ukrainian and Russian may have misled Tesitelova, who did not analyze them, although they depict problems of grammatical statistics (e.g., V.I. Perebejnos, ed., The automatization of the analysis of scientific text, where the authors concentrate their attention on the statistical analysis of the letter chains and some syntactic algorithmic rules which are also studied by these authors in "Linguistic problems of editing" and by T.A. Grjaznuhina in "Analysis of the prepositional links in scientific Text". In addition, Tesitelova outli nes the object of semantic statistic (p. 135), method of research (p. 135), method of research (p. 135), unit of population (p. 136), an selection of methods and material in it (pp. 138-140). Dwelling on the publications on semantic statistics, the author emphasizes the contribution of the linguists of the former USSR, such as B.A. Plotnikov, V.A. Moskovich, R.M. Frumkina, and J. Thldava. However, she pays much more attention to the investigation of Czech, mentioning only one work in German, and not mentioning the recent achievements in English at all.

Chapter 4 deals with the other domains of quantitative linguistics which include 1) phonological; 2) graphemic; 3) stylistic; 4) typoloical statistics; 5) statistics concerning the development of language and 6) word-formation statistics. In my opinion, it is this part of the book which deals with the most promising fields of quantitative linguistics. Beginning with phonological statistics, Tesitelova correctly remarks that phonology belongs to the domains of quantitative linguistics where the application of statistical methods has a long tradition, although in many languages it is still an open question as to what the phonemes are or how many phonemes should be in this or that phonemic inventory. However, my own experience of counting frequencies of speech sounds in languages where the exact phonemic inventory is disputable nevertheless shows that frequency analysis, especially frequency analysis of sounds in certain positions in a word and their combinability, allows a researcher to differentiate between th e actual phonemes and phonemic variants. Thus the investigation of the frequencies of the members of the sound chain in Mansi (Vogul) allowed me to find out the exact phonemic inventory (Tambovtsev 1977, 1979, 1980, 1981) and to verify the phonemic inventory in Jug (Ket) (Tambovtsev & Werner 1979). It is good that once again the author draws the student's attention to the correct sampling of the material in phonological statistics. She is correct to state that there is a belief among traditional linguists that for reliable phonemic counts large samples are not necessary. It may be because of the solid works where linguists took samples of 1000; e.g., Greenberg counted small samples of 1000 each for Hausa, Klamath, Coos, Yurok, Chiricahua, and Maidu (Greenberg 1966). However, since M. Konigova investigated the size of corpus for determining the frequency of phonemes, it is not possible to derive any reliable linguistic results from small samples. Konigova (1966) showed that the necessary corpus size for the mo st frequent phonemes (i.e., only the first three phonemes of the ordered series) is about 7000-8000 phonemes, while the least frequent phonemes require a corpus of not less than 150,000 phonemes. Tesitelova lists this article (p.147) along with the other articles. In fact, the sizes of the samples really affect the linguistic conclusions (Tambovtsev 1985a). In the field of phonological statistics, Tesitelova provides a full account of the works of Czech scholars: V. Mathesius, J. Vachek, B. Trnka, and others. The author also gives some account of the works of scholars in the other Slavic languages, although she does not describe some solid investigations in Russian (e.g., Bondarko, Zinder & Shtern 1977; Jolkina & Judina 1964). In the Ukrainian part, she does mention the first and pioneering work by Perebejnos (1964). Gridneva has greatly influenced Ukrainian colleagues by her work (e.g., 1966). Maybe one of the main drawbacks of the book under review is the very short list of works which are discussed in chap ter 1.3.4, dedicated to the phonological statistics of "other languages". Here Tesitelova speaks only about English, German, French, Spanish, and Hungarian, leaving many languages uncovered. Let us name just a few. Segal (1972) is a good book on the history and modern methods of phonostatistics whose main part is devoted to the thorough investigation of Polish, one of the best book on phonostatistics even now, 20 years after its publication. There are several other works that are not in the limelight and are almost never cited. Guinashvili (1965) has a sample of 30,503 phonemes of Persian, with results not less interesting than those in the other book on Persian phonostatistics, Moinfar (1973), also unmentioned here. As mentioned earlier, no work in the phonostatistics of Mansi, Hanty, Veps, Karelian, Tatar (Baraba), Oroch, Komi-Zyrian, etc. (cf. Tambovtsev 1984a, 1985bc, 1986a, 1988, 1990b), nor the reliable work of Van den Broeke et al. (e.g., 1986) on Dutch is mentioned. Some very well-known books are not discussed at all, for no apparent reason (e.g., Brainerd 1974). European phonostatistics is usually much better represented than Asian, so it is worth mentioning the following: Kissen (1964), with a large sample of 40,894 phonemes in Uzbek; Atamuradov (1966), 35,000 phonemes in Turkmen, another Turkie language; and Elizarenkova (1974), who counted Aryan (i.e., Old Indic) phonemes in 10-12th century B.C. texts. Especially important is Vertogradova (1967), which studies the phonostatistical structure of the prakrits (five Middle Indic dialects), and was missed by Tesitelova, even though it follows and develops the ideas of the Western linguists Harary & Paper (1957). The work would have been a richer source if these, and other, works had not been omitted.

Later, Tesitelova considers stylistic statistics (pp. 160-177), defining three branches: 1) selection and use of linguistic means in comunication, in a text; 2) rhythmical layout of verse, which the author proposes calling quantitative versology or statistical versology; and 3) statistical characteristics of language when dealing with so-called disputed authorship. One cannot help agreeing with her that the important thing is to choose correct characteristics on a certain language level (or several levels), then to use them correctly, and then to evaluate the results correctly. So it is very important to choose a "good" unit of population and sampling (pp. 160-161). She again speaks of the richness of vocabulary and the index of repetition of words (a matter she had already discussed earlier) -- it would have been advisable to deal with it all in one place, here giving just a cross -- reference to the earlier discussion. Her treatment of disputed authorship is only based on the works of Alvar Ellegard and P. Vashak, although she mentions works by G.U. Yule, C.S. Brinegar, A.Q. Morton, and some others. She should have described in greater detail the work of V.J. Batov and J.A. Sorokin, who used 8 characteristics and obtained convincing results (p. 176). Her selected publications on stylistic statistics give a balanced view (pp. 165-174). It was a good idea to devote a separate part to typological statistics. although it seems to me that she understands the object of typological statistics too narrowly, since she believes that only typological statistics quantifies so-called language universals (p. 117). In my opinion. typological statistics should also include different indices on which it is possible to construct different taxonomies or classifications. Tesitelova discusses only old works in this field, e.g., J. Greenberg (1960). V Skalicka (1967). J. Kramsky (1976), T. Milewski (1962), M.I. Lekomtsev (1963), V.I. Perebejnos (1970), A. Avram (1964). E.A. Afendras (1970), etc. (pp. 178-181; see therein for exact r eferences). In my works on typological statistics, I showed the functioning of the consonant-vowel ratio in some 80 languages around the world (Tambovtsev 1985d). The distances between the Finno-Ugric languages were defined elsewhere (Tambovtsev 1983). The linguistic typological distances between Japanese, Oroch, Jug (Ket), Jakut. Kazakh, Uzbek, Turkmen, Mansi, Hanty, Selkup, and other languages were measured on the basis of functioning of certain consonantal groups in a large sample. Genetically close languages tend to show similar consonantal functioning in the defined groups (Tambovtsev 1988). The typological distances between Hakas and four other Turkic languages were found (Tambovtsev 1991b), and the new notion of compactness was introduced and measured in Finno-Ugric, Samoyedic, Uralic. Turkic, Tungus-Manchurian. Altaic, Ural-Altaic, and their groups, subgroups. and branches (Tambovtsev 1990a). The compactness of the language family is measured as the sum of distances between languages within a language family. Phonemic functioning of speech chains in different languages may show similarity in their construction, since the investigation of genetic relatedness deals with the dialects or supposed dialects of a language. It turned out that the Tihvin and Ludikov dialects of Karelian are only a bit closer to each other than are Mansi (Vogul) and Hungarian (Tambovtsev 1984b). Describing the application of quantitative methods in dialectology, Tesitelova never mentions either his work, nor the numerous works of Hans Goebi in this direction, nor of others (e.g., Sheila Embleton). although in general more effort is needed here (Tambovtsev 1992b).

The next section of the book (pp. 181-188) is devoted to the glottochronological method and selected publications on statistics concerning the development of language or languages. Glottochronology is not popular any more even with many scholars who were very active in this field. e.g., G.A. Klimov, who wrote a solid work on the glottochronology of the Transcaucasion languages (dealt with by Tesitelova) but who now does not consider works on glottochronology to be of any value. Most of the interesting works in this field were written in the 1960s, and then the interest of linguists in this theory stopped. However, the well-known formula of Morris Swadesh (p. 182) can be used a bit differently and then yield valuable results. It is a pity that nobody pursued the direction of investigation proposed by M.V. Arapov & M.M. Herts, which Tesitelova speaks about later (p. 186); she does not say anything about how this method and some other methods were later applied by Arapov (1988). There are also more recent works in the field, with new methods, by David Sankoff (e.g., 1972) and Sheila Embleton (e.g.. 1983, 1985, 1986).

The application of the results of quantitative statistics is believed to be of use to stenographers, typographers, language teachers, psychologists, and the decoders of coded messages (pp. 190-199), and some others. Tesitelova mentions the decipherment of Maya texts by a group of mathematicians from the Institute of Mathematics of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy and a group of linguists from Novosibirsk University, but does not give exact references to their articles.

In writing about quantitative linguistics and computers (Chapter 6, pp. 200-202), Tesitelova does not tell us her thoughts on why the number of works in the field began to decrease when computers came in.

That is why what she tells us in the last chapter (pp. 203-208) about prospects for quantitative linguistics does not sound convincing, although one may agree that this field of linguistics now needs a team of experts trained both in linguistics and mathematics. In my opinion, it is tha lack of new ideas which hinders its development. As I have shown above, there are some promising areas in this field; they should develop rapidly, and then, as is usual with fashions, linguistic fashion will return to the field of quantitative linguistics. I would recommend revising and updating this book for a second edition, and devoting more pages to the most promising areas.


Alekseev, P.M.

1975 Statisticheskaja leksikografija (tipologija, sostavlenie i primenenie chastotnyh slovarej. Leningrad: LGPI.

Goncharenko, V.V.

1971 "Chastotnyj slovarj anglijskih tekstov po poluprovodnikom", in: statistika rechi i avtomaticheskij analiz teksta. Leningrad: Nauka: 179-190.

Brainerd, B.

1974 Weighing Evidence in Language and Literature: A Statistical Approach. Toronto and Buffalo: University of Toronto Press.

Jones, D.

1917 Everyman's English Pronouncing Dictionary. London: J.M. Dent & Sons.

O'Connor, J.D.

1974 Phoneties. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.

Roberts, H.

1965 A Statistical Linguistic Analysis of American English. The Hague: Mouton.

Tambovtsev, Y.

1979 "Raspredelenie glasnych fonem v mansijskoj poezii", Soviet Finno-Ugric Studies XV, 3: 164-167.

Tambovtsev, Y.

1984 "Phoneme Frequency and Closeness Quotient: Establishing Relationship Degrees by Phonostatistics", Ural-Altaic Yearbook 56: 103-119.

Tambovtsev, Y.

1992 "Phonostatistical Study of the Vepsian Language", The Bulletin of the Phonetic Society of Japan 201: 9-14.

Tambovtsev, Y.

1994 Review of Tesitelova. 1992. Word 45: 365-377.

Tesitelova, M.

1992 Quantitative Linguistics. Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
COPYRIGHT 1996 Adam Mickiewicz University Press
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Tambovtsev, Yuri
Publication:Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 1996
Previous Article:The syntax of sentence and text: a festschrift for Frantisek Danes. (Reviews).
Next Article:Editor's note.

Related Articles
Best's Rating Changes.
Curriculum Vitae.
List of Publications.
Curriculum vitae.
List of publications.
Towards accountability: a point of orientation for post-modern applied linguistics in the third millennium. (Research Articles).
An introduction to Old English.
New journal from Birkhauser, Springer Science+Business.
Do You Speak American?
Linguistics of American Sign Language, 4th ed.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2021 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters |