Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Linguists identify 15,000-year-old ‘ultraconserved words’

 

You, hear me! Give this fire to that old man. Pull the black worm off the bark and give it to the mother. And no spitting in the ashes!
 
It’s an odd little speech. But if you went back 15,000 years and spoke these words to hunter-gatherers in Asia in any one of hundreds of modern languages, there is a chance they would understand at least some of what you were saying.

That’s because all of the nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs in the four sentences are words that have descended largely unchanged from a language that died out as the glaciers retreated at the end of the last Ice Age. Those few words mean the same thing, and sound almost the same, as they did then. 

The traditional view is that words can’t survive for more than 8,000 to 9,000 years. Evolution, linguistic “weathering” and the adoption of replacements from other languages eventually drive ancient words to extinction, just like the dinosaurs of the Jurassic era.

For the rest of the story: http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/linguists-identify-15000-year-old-ultraconserved-words/2013/05/06/a02e3a14-b427-11e2-9a98-4be1688d7d84_story.html

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