Article brought to you by: Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Before the Tower of Babel - Can you guess which 15,000 year-old words you use every day?

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
May 8th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

A "super language" used in Ice Age Europe contains many of the same words we use today - and if we were to engage with denizens of that prehistoric time, we wouldn't have much difficulty in communicating. The University of Reading study says that such words, such as I, you, we, man and bark are still in use.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Researchers are confident that complete sentences could still be understood today, using the linguistic "common language" allowing different groups to communicate.

Professor of Evolutionary Biology Mark Pagel and his team predict that certain words would have changed so slowly over long periods of time as to retain traces of their ancestry for up to 10,000 or more years.

"We discovered we could predict a rate of evolution for words," Professor Pagel says. "There was a small subset of words that evolved so slowly over time they might last up to 20,000 years. You realize, 'golly, I might be able to predict words that link these families,' and we found these 23 words that have a common ancestor."

The 23 words include Mother, Fire, to spit and worm, which would have sounded very different, Professor Pagel says. "The words would not sound exactly the same, but they would be recognizable, or in a form that we could easily learn to recognizable.

"The words for mother, for instance, sound like mama or something similar.

"If we were to sit round a campfire, we could have a basic conversation."

Previous studies have examined shared sounds among words to identify those that are likely to be derived from common ancestral words, such as the Latin "pater" and the English "father." The difficulty with this approach, the team said, is that two words might have similar sounds just by accident, such as the words "team" and "cream."

To combat this problem, Professor Pagel's team showed that a subset of words was used frequently in everyday speech, are more likely to be retained over long periods of time.

Sound similarities are discovered they do not merely reflect the workings of chance. "The way in which we use a certain set of words in everyday speech is something common to all human languages," Pagel said.

"We discovered numerals, pronouns and special adverbs are replaced far more slowly, with linguistic half-lives of once every 10,000 or even more years. 

"As a rule of thumb, words used more than about once per thousand in everyday speech were seven to ten times more likely to show deep ancestry in the Eurasian super-family. The research shows they each probably stem from a common language ancestor.

"As words evolve they change, such as P to F transition, which change over time."

Calling for more research into common languages, Professor Pagel noted that "The fact we can find these ancient links should encourage us to do more of it. We can test interesting questions about human migration and evolution through these links."

Article brought to you by: Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)