Paper: Social Structure and Language Structure: the New Nomothetic Approach

Social Structure and Language Structure the New Nomothetic Approach

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Recent studies have taken advantage of newly available, large-scale, cross-linguistic data and
new statistical techniques to look at the relationship between language structure and social
structure. These ‘nomothetic’ approaches contrast with more traditional approaches and a
tension is observed between proponents of each method. We review some nomothetic studies
and point out some challenges that must be overcome. However, we argue that nomothetic
approaches can contribute to our understanding of the links between social structure and
language structure if they address these challenges and are taken as part of a body of mutu-
ally supporting evidence. Nomothetic studies are a powerful tool for generating hypotheses
that can go on to be corroborated and tested with experimental and theoretical approaches.
These studies are highlighting the effect of interaction on language.
Key words: nomothetic, social structure, complex adaptive systems, linguistic niche hypoth-
esis, cultural evolution

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