Prediction experiment for missing words in Kho-Bwa language data.
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% Prediction experiment for missing words in Kho-Bwa language data % Tim Bodt, Nathan Hill, and Johann-Mattis List % 2018


This is an experiment on prediction of words that have so far not been observed in field work. The basic idea is: with an existing dataset of cognate words, we can use the correspondence pattern detection algorithm by @List2018PREPRINTa to infer for those words in a given language that do not show a reflex in a given cognate set, how they would sound if they were cognate. Since Tim Bodt, who did field work on the Kho-Bwa languages, in fact dit not elicit all words during his initial field work on eight varieties of Kho-Bwa, we can now use the existing dataset to predict how potential cognates would have sounded, and if Tim Bodt goes back to field work in November, he can try to elicit those words and see how well the prediction algorithm works and how well prediction works in historical linguistics in general.

Installation and Running the code

To install the source code of this package, you need lingpy, sinopy, and lingrex, three Python libraries.

You can install them with help of PIP, provided you have a fresh Python3 installation on your computer:

$ pip install -r pip-requirements.txt

To run the code, simply type:

$ python

The output will be written to the file predictions.tsv.

Short Introduction to the Kho-Bwa Languages

In 1952, Stonor, basing himself on local sources, reported that the two languages 'Puroik' and 'Bugun' are mutually intelligible [@Stonor1952]. It was not until the last two decades of the previous century that the first linguistic materials on Bugun/Khowa, Puroik/Sulung, Sherdukpen and Sartang/Boot/Butpa Monpa became available: the works of the Indian research/language officers Deuri [@Deuri1983], Dondrup [@Dondrup1988], Dondrup [@Dondrup1990], and Dondrup [@Dondrup2004]. On the Chinese side, the first Puroik data were published as part of the large-scale survey Tibeto-Burman Phonology and Lexicon [@Sun1991]. Based on these materials and own data, Jackson Sun [@Sun1992; @Sun1993] was the first to suggest that Puroik, Bugun, Sherdukpen and 'Lishpa-Butpa' are not just a random residue when all other major languages are subtracted, but that they might belong together and form a coherent linguistic group.

Other researchers after him either adopted his view or independently reached the same conclusion [@Rutgers1999; @Burling2003]. Van Driem [@VanDriem2001] named the group "Kho-Bwa cluster" in his handbook Languages of the Himalayas, after the reconstructions for WATER and FIRE. More recent publications include the Puroik description from China by Lǐ [@Li2004a] and the Sherdukpen description by Jacquesson [@Jacquesson2015] and the elicited wordlists of different varieties in the unpublished report by Abraham et al. [@Abraham2005]. Blench and Post [@Blench2014] and Post and Burling [@Post2017] expressed scepticism about Puroik being part of this proposed group of languages. Nonetheless, all commonly consulted handbooks [@Burling2003; @Genetti2016; @Post2017] and the online language encyclopaedias Ethnologue and Glottolog [@Hammarstroem2018] mention "Kho-Bwa" as a (potential) branch of Tibeto-Burman in western Arunachal Pradesh. Although the exact phonological shape of the reconstructions *kho WATER and *bwa FIRE needs to be established, we follow Lieberherr and Bodt [@Lieberherr2017] and others before them in using "Kho-Bwa" as a label for these languages. Besides the fact that it is already established to some extent, it has the advantage of not being biased toward one language like "Bugunish" [@Sun1993], or a region like "Kamengic" [@Blench2014; @Post2017] Furthermore, "Kho-Bwa" offers an exhaustive definition of the group: Any language of western Arunachal Pradesh in which the word for 'water' starts with k and the word for 'fire' starts with b is a "Kho-Bwa" language.

The Western Kho-Bwa languages are the eight distinct linguistic varieties spoken in the western part of the Kho-Bwa area: the valleys of the Gongri and Tenga rivers. The languages belonging to this sub-group are Lishpa (Khispi), Chugpa (Duhumbi), Sartang and Sherdukpen. Sartang has four distinct speech varieties, whereas Sherdukpen has two. The total number of speakers of these linguistic varieties combined is around 8,500, and considering the low speaker population and the rapid socio-economic and cultural changes in this area all varieties must be considered as endangered.

Note on the Data Used for this Study

The data in the form the basis of this analysis were elicited through a 441-gloss lexical wordlist, collected by Timotheus Bodt during 2012 and 2017. Before re-arranging the data with help of computer-assisted tools like EDICTOR [@List2017d] and LingPy [@List2013b], the data was already arranged and partly analyzed wit the goal of building an etymological dictionary of Kho-Bwa. For most of the data points, audio recordings are also available, as well as extensive lexical collections collected during Bodt's fieldwork (see the overview on Zenodo). In the current for, the data is arranged in the format required by LingPy and EDICTOR, namely, a tab-separated CSV-file (see data/bodt-khobwa-cleaned.tsv) which contains cross-semantic, partial cognate sets that are further annotated with help of alignments. Each column in the file format contains data of a specific type. For details on this format, we recommend to consult (@List2018d). Notable differences to previous analyses are:

  • the column TOKENS shows morphological and sound segmentation, with sound segments being segmented by a space, and morphemes being further segmented by a + symbol,
  • the column crossids lists cross-semantic cognate sets, thus, one cognate set may span multiple concepts, as is the case for most of the prefixes in the data,
  • the column structure lists the prosodic structure of the entries in the data, represented by abbreviations i (initial), n (nucleus), and c (coda),
  • the column morphemes follows the idea presented in Hill and List (@Hill2017a), to annotate morphological structures with help of glosses, but it expands the format by making a strict distinction between free and bound morphemes (free morphemes are written in uppercase, and bound morphemes are prefixed by a _ underscore)

For the time being, the concepts in the data are not yet linked to the Concepticon, but we plan to do this when publishing the results of this study. By then, we will publish the underlying data officially in format proposed by the CLDF initiative [@Forkel2018a], to offer simplified re-use of the data in other projects, and to increase its comparability.

Basic Statistics of the Data

In its current form, the data consists of 8 language varieties and 662 elicitation glosses. The following table lists the basic coverage of the data, by comparing, for how many of the 662 eliciation glosses a translation equivalent could be found in the current data.

Variety Items Ratio
Duhumbi 632 0.95
Jerigaon 460 0.69
Khispi 526 0.79
Khoina 504 0.76
Khoitam 521 0.79
Rahung 519 0.78
Rupa 534 0.81
Shergaon 437 0.66
TOTAL 662 0.78

As we can see from the table, the basic is rather low, with an average of 78% of the elicitation glosses being covered. This justifies our prediction experiment, as it means that there are quite a few concepts that Bodt could try to elicit during fieldwork in order to find out if our automatic prediction method works well enough.

How the Predictions are Presented

The predictions are given in tabular form in the file predictions.tsv. The table header indicates the content of the cells in each column, and each row presents one prediction. The predictions, however are not given for entire words, but only for specific morphemes, giving the multi-morphemic character of the languages in which word derivations patterns are rather frequent. To allow for a precise identification of the semantics of a given morpheme, all morphemes in the data were annotated using the EDICTOR's [@List2017d] morpheme annotation functionalities. Preditions are further given in three flavors, reflecting different degrees of uncertainty: one word form that provides only the most likely sounds for the word form, ignoring any uncertainty. One word form that provides up to two different sounds per alignment site, if there are multiple possibilities, and one word form that provides up to three different sounds per site. In all cases where multiple sounds are provided, this is displayed by separating the sounds in the same slot by the pipe symbol |. The order of the sounds if multiple possibilities are encountered thereby reflects the number of occurrences (following the rough logic that the more frequently observed correspondence patterns should be preferred in prediction over less frequently observed ones).

No. Qu. Cogn. Language Concept Morpheme Word1 Word2 Word3
1 2 Jerigaon 2pl.excl _excl1 l øː l øː|- l øː|-|i
2 2 Khoina 2pl.excl _excl1 h øː h øː|aː h øː|aː|ə
3 2 Khoitam 2pl.excl _excl1 l ĩː l ĩː|yː l ĩː|yː|ĩ
4 2 Rupa 2pl.excl _excl1 l øː l øː|ɔː l øː|ɔː|ə
5 2 Shergaon 2pl.excl _excl1 l ɛ̃ː l ɛ̃ː|aː l ɛ̃ː|aː|a
6 3 Jerigaon 2pl.incl _excl1 l l l
7 3 Khoina 2pl.incl _excl1 h h h
8 3 Khoitam 2pl.incl _excl1 l l l
9 3 Rahung 2pl.incl _excl1 r r r
10 3 Rupa 2pl.incl _excl1 l l l
11 3 Shergaon 2pl.incl _excl1 l l l
12 7 Rahung 3sg 3SG w ə w|pʰ ə w|pʰ ə
13 ? 11 Duhumbi Bugun _sa-prefix7 ɕ Ø ɕ|s Ø ɕ|s Ø
14 ? 11 Jerigaon Bugun _sa-prefix7 s Ø s|z Ø s|z Ø
15 ? 11 Khispi Bugun _sa-prefix7 ɕ Ø ɕ|s Ø ɕ|s Ø
16 ? 11 Khoitam Bugun _sa-prefix7 s Ø s|z Ø s|z Ø

Given that our algorithm predicts all words regardless of whether it makes sense (including grammatical markers, prefixes and suffixes), it is clear that the selection of items to be explicitly inquired cannot contain all items for which predictions could be made. Therefore, the automatic transcritons provided in the file <predictions-automatic.tsv> may at times contain predictions of which we know that they are unlikely to exist, since the potential words have most likely been replaced by borrowings or no concepts exist for a given elicitation gloss. For this reason, Tim Bodt made a manual analysis in which he extracted only the from his experience most promising and interesting cases, comprising a list of 630 detailed predictions (including full words with prefix and main root), as well as an informed guess by Tim, which at times may override the automatic prediction. This allows us essentially to compare two different kinds of predictions: the fully automated ones, and the ones corrected by our expert. The corrected data is provided as file <predictions-manual.tsv>.

Testing the Predictions During Field Work

To verify the predictions, we will proceed as follows:

  1. During field work by Tim Bodt, he will try to elicit as many of the 640 potentially missing cognate sets.
  2. All words tested directly will be tracked with their concept, their variety, and their form.
  3. Later, we will compare the number of those words that have been correctly proposed by the algorithm, by Tim Bodt's corrections, and the words where it failed.
  4. The results will be reported.

Note that there are various possibilities why a prediction may fail, the two most important ones being:

  1. that the algorithm (or the expert) proposes a wrong form (or no form at all), due to problems in its settings or sparseness in the data (or also erroneous annotations such as cognate sets or alignments),
  2. that the word under question is no longer reflected in the language, since it was lost.

While both parts seem to be easy to evaluate, they are in fact not easy to disentangle, as they require a linguistic analysis to be applied to the words that were elicited.

We can distinguish three different situations of failure here:

  1. A word form could be elicited which is cognate with the other words in the cognate set for which a prediction was made, and it can be directly compared with the predicted word form.
  2. No cognate word form could be elicited, so the prediction fails since the word could not be found to be still reflected in the language under question.

Strictly speaking, since our algorithm does not predict the likelihood of lexical replacment and the loss of words, we can only evaluate those predictions where a cognate word could afterwards indeed be identified. For this reason, it seems additionally useful to not restrict our sample of predicted words to drastically by now, since the more we restrict our sample, the fewer datapoints we will be left with for comparison. To make clear, however, that a word for which we made a prediction could not be found, we will report all these attempts, and the final evaluation scores will consist of the following comparisons:

  1. elicited words vs. words which could be assigned to an existing cognate set
  2. correctly predicted words vs. incorrectly predicted words

Our test thus has some shortcomings, in so far as it is not clear in advance how many of our predictions can in fact be tested, but this is also owed to the nature of "prediction" or "retrodiction" in historical linguistics.

Testing the Prediction on the Current Data

Before conducting an experiment of this kind, it is useful to compute the rate of accuracy we might expect from random sampling of the data alone. For this purpose, we randomly deleted words from the existing data and then used the distorted dataset to predict the deleted words. The accuracy is then computed for each word form by counting, how many time the algorithm proposes the correct word form and how many times it fails. This can be represented in a percentages score, our accuracy score. In addition, we report more values in these experiments, namely

  • proportion: the average proportion of words that were excluded from the data
  • density: the cognate density of the wordlist (a score computed with help of the LingPy library)

To test the predictive force of the current algorithmic settings, we ran 100 trials of the algorithm, by running the script Below are the results:

accuracy proportion density
0.5854  |       0.6103  |    0.3452


  • since 2016: Johann-Mattis List and Nathan W. Hill developed the main framework for correspondence pattern detection and word prediction which is an on-going process
  • July 30 -- August 3, 2018: Tim Bodt visited the CALC group, and we started working on the data, aligning words, assigning cross-semantic cognate sets, and annotating morphemes.
  • August 30, 2018: Johann-Mattis List carried out the prediction experiment using the lingrex software package, on the datafile bodt-khobwa-cleaned. .
  • October 04, 2018: Tim Bodt sent his final data, a careful selection of words to be tested for the prediction experiment to Johann-Mattis List, with 630 word forms in total, and about 65 on average per doculect, and full annotations on both the automatically predicted form and the manually corrected one
  • about November 2018: Tim Bodt will check the data during field work and compare with the predictons registered in this experiment before.