The intellectual ecology of language comparison

My goals in this paper are first to suggest that dialectology's focus on linguistic diversity, i.e. differences among dialects, is more broadly relevant than would be apparent at most conferences. I’ll do this by examining application of dialectological methods in related sub-disciplines of linguistics, quickly moving to methods that compare different languages as well as dialects.  I'll examine work that turns on the linguistic similarity we investigate in dialectology, namely detecting and referencing transliterations of foreign names; avoiding confusable names of medicines; (spoken) word recognition; the intelligibility of closely related languages; sociolinguistics, including the study of regiolects; language contact; language education and language therapy; and diachronic (genealogical) linguistics. From that basis I'll also secondly suggest that the current self-identification of dialectologists might profitably be revised. Right now, most dialectologists see their work as most closely related to sociolinguistics. Since dialectology studies variation with respect to geography, and sociolinguistics studies variation with respect to social factors such as class or occupation, the close relation seems sensible. But the current research foci of the two sub-disciplines belie the apparent similarity in the definitions. To lend some authority to what I say, but also to make my computational and mathematical perspective clear, I’ll first review my own contributions to dialectology. These lead me to see the similar efforts in other fields.