Measuring diachronic language distance using perplexity: Application to English, Portuguese, and Spanish

The objective of this work is to set a corpus-driven methodology to quantify automatically diachronic language distance between chronological periods of several languages. We apply a perplexity-based measure to written text representing different historical periods of three languages: European English, European Portuguese, and European Spanish. For this purpose, we have built historical corpora for each period, which have been compiled from different open corpus sources containing texts as close as possible to its original spelling. The results of our experiments show that a diachronic language distance based on perplexity detects the linguistic evolution that had already been explained by the historians of the three languages. It is remarkable to underline that it is an unsupervised multilingual method which only needs a raw corpora organized by periods.

keywords: natural language processing, language distance, perplexity, historical linguistics