Unravelling the Origins of Human Language
Linguists have long sought to understand the origins of human language by tracing back the history of words through the ages. Now a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has revealed that during the Ice Age, our ancient ancestors may have had several words in common with us, some of which could still be recognized today.
Previously, linguists have investigated ancient tongues by studying shared sounds among words to identify those that are were likely derived from common ancestral words. The difficult with this approach is that sometimes words can sound similar by coincidence. Fortunately, a new method was found to address this problem. Researchers discovered that subsets of words used frequently in everyday speech are more likely to be retained over long periods of time. Using this, they were then able to predict words likely to have shared sounds, which reduces the possibility that the words were similar by chance.
Using statistical models, linguists have now discovered that certain words would have changed so slowly that they would have retained their ancestry for up to ten thousand years. The research has important implications for understanding the origins of human languages and the way they have transformed throughout the ages. With these new findings, linguists could potentially reconstruct the ancient "mother" of all languages that was used in the very beginnings of human history.