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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2013 Jun 11;110(24):9698-703. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1303108110. Epub 2013 May 28.

Principles of parametric estimation in modeling language competition.

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Institute of Linguistics, Shanghai Normal University, Shanghai 200234, China.


It is generally difficult to define reasonable parameters and interpret their values in mathematical models of social phenomena. Rather than directly fitting abstract parameters against empirical data, we should define some concrete parameters to denote the sociocultural factors relevant for particular phenomena, and compute the values of these parameters based upon the corresponding empirical data. Taking the example of modeling studies of language competition, we propose a language diffusion principle and two language inheritance principles to compute two critical parameters, namely the impacts and inheritance rates of competing languages, in our language competition model derived from the Lotka-Volterra competition model in evolutionary biology. These principles assign explicit sociolinguistic meanings to those parameters and calculate their values from the relevant data of population censuses and language surveys. Using four examples of language competition, we illustrate that our language competition model with thus-estimated parameter values can reliably replicate and predict the dynamics of language competition, and it is especially useful in cases lacking direct competition data.


Fourier's law of heat conduction; Hardy-Weinberg genetic inheritance principle; lexical diffusion dynamics; logistic curve; prestige

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