World's oldest words

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by S.A.M., Mar 6, 2009.

  1. S.A.M. uniquely dreadful Valued Senior Member

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    This is something that Fraggle may enjoy.

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    Research has identified a handful of modern words that have changed so little in tens of thousands of years that ancient hunter-gatherers would probably have been able to understand them.

    Anybody who was catapulted back in time to Ice Age Europe would stand a good chance of being intelligible to the locals by using words such as “I”, “who” and “thou” and the numbers “two”, “three” and “five”, the work suggests.

    Dr Pagel has tracked how words have changed by comparing languages from the Indo-European family, which includes most of the past and present languages of Europe, the Middle East and the Indian sub-continent. All are derived from the same root and have many linguistic similarities.

    The word “water”, for example, is wasser in German, eau in French and aqua in Italian and Latin. Although each is slightly different, they share a similar sound that shows them to share a common linguistic ancestor.

    By comparing these languages, it is possible to work out how and when they diverged, and to trace the evolutionary history of individual words.

    Dr Pagel has recently been able to track the evolutionary history of Indo-European back almost 30,000 years, using a new IBM supercomputer. He said that some of the oldest words were well over 10,000 years old.

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  3. superstring01 Moderator

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    "mama" probably the oldes.

    ~String
     
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  5. clusteringflux Version 1. OH! Valued Senior Member

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    I would agree. Goats have been using it for millions of years.
     
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  7. Orleander OH JOY!!!! Valued Senior Member

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    Wow, I would have thought 'no' was one of the oldest.
     
  8. nietzschefan Thread Killer Valued Senior Member

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    People were more efficient talkers 30000 years ago.

    There was probably one word (Ug?) for kill them, hump them, and Bitch GET ME A DRINK! Heyyy let's face it cro-magnon operated like Andrew Dice-Clay 24/7.
     
  9. Enmos Staff Member

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    When does a sound become a word ? Does it require written language to have words ?
     
  10. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    He's got the concept right but he's way off on the details. The Indo-European tribes began arriving in Europe around 4KYA. Before that the continent was populated by the descendants of (probabably multiple) prior migrations. The Basques and the Finnic peoples (including the Estonians and the Sami or "Lapps") are the last remnants of the previous population. The only other pre-Indo-European people we can name are the Etruscans, who are now extinct. All of these people speak/spoke languages outside the Indo-European family and none of their words would be recognizable to us.

    The Picts, who inhabited what is now Scotland during Roman times, may have been pre-Indo-Europeans also, but not enough of their culture or DNA survived to identify them clearly. They may have been related to the people who built Stonehenge, or they may have simply been one of the many Celtic tribes who had the British Isles to themselves before the Roman occupation.

    When one talks about "Ice Age Europe" one is referring to the era around 25KYA when the very first wave of Homo sapiens migrated up out of western Asia, finding Homo neanderthalensis well established in a climate his body was well adapted to. As the weather warmed and the glaciers began to melt, sapiens was able to out-compete the Neanderthals. DNA evidence suggests that this displacement was not primarily a violent one; the traces of Neanderthal DNA in modern Europeans indicate that it was done by assimilation.

    This occurred twenty thousand years before there were any Indo-Europeans in Europe.
    This is presented as though it is groundbreaking new research. The Indo-European language family was rather well mapped out more than a hundred years ago, long before computers were available for the project.

    The pronouns, numerals, and common nouns like water, animals and body parts are indeed fertile ground for finding cognate words in related languages, and their different forms are the basis for describing the details of phonetic shifts. For example, the K in proto-Indo-European kmtom, "hundred," was palatalized into S in all of the Eastern Indo-European languages, e.g. Russian sto and Sanskrit satem, whereas it remained K in the language of the Western Indo-European tribes, e.g. Latin centum and Greek hekaton. But it broke down quickly, an excellent example of how difficult it is to trace phonetic evolution. It became H in the Germanic languages (that's why we say "hundred"), S in French cent, TH in Spanish ciento, and CH in Italian cento. Each of those changes from K to something else is corroborated by other words such as English "head" for Latin capit-, allowing us to diagram the entire phonetic history of all the Indo-European languages from Irish to Bengali.

    Historical linguistics also reveals much about a people's history. The word for "five" in proto-Indo-European, phenqwe, is from the same root as English "finger," giving us an insight into how numbers were named as people learned to count higher. Similarly, the word for ten, dekm, is from the same root as Latin digit-, which also means "finger."
    This research is extremely controversial and is by no means accepted by the majority of linguists. This article is abbreviated and omits reference to the Nostratus hypothesis, which claims that the technology of language was only invented once and all languages have one common ancestor. A set of about fifty words has been identified, using massively parallel computing, that seem to be common to all languages.

    The problem with these findings is that they postulate phonetic shifts which do not have enough other words for establishment by correlation. We already know that there are many coincidences in vocabulary among unrelated languages, and this greatly weakens the Nostratic hypothesis.

    Furthermore, this hypothesis flies in the face of the observation that the entire vocabulary, syntax, phonetics, grammar, and even the basic underlying world-view of a language can turn over completely in about ten thousand years. To assume that words for numbers, body parts and familiar animals will stay constant forever is intuitive, but it is not borne out by evidence. The Basque word for "six" is sei, clearly borrowed from Spanish. The everyday English words use, very, second and question are Norman French borrowings. Japanese retains its own polysyllabic names for the cardinal numbers, but the well-known series more commonly used, ichi ni san shi go roku shichi hachi ku ju is Chinese yi er san si wu liu qi ba jiu shi.
    Both mama and baba are baby sounds and are common throughout human cultures.
    It is. Most of the Indo-European languages have an adverb of negation starting with N. But this also gives us a good illustration of the power of turnover with time. In Danish, "no" is indeed nej, but "not" is ikke. In French, the construction ne... pas is used for "not," but already there are phrases in which pas can stand by itself.
    This is highly unorthodox linguistic science. The Indo-Europeans have been identified as a discrete ethnic group with their own language no earlier than 4000BCE, and today many scholars have moved that up to 2000BCE.

    DNA analysis will undoubtedly help us trace the migratory routes of the non-African peoples even more precisely than it already has, but until then we really have no idea where that tribe we now call Indo-Europeans (who are first known to us in Anatolia or a nearby region like Armenia or Georgia, not quite in either India or Europe) whose descendants conquered the world linguistically, culturally and economically, originally came from or who their earlier ancestors were. All we know for sure is that like all non-African peoples, they're descended from a single tribe (the San) who walked out of Africa across (a much drier) Suez about 50KYA, looking for a better food supply during a severe ice age when rainfall in Africa was inadequate to feed everyone.
     
  11. Billy T Use Sugar Cane Alcohol car Fuel Valued Senior Member

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    It would have been except for the "Darwinian effect." (Genes of ladies prone to use it died out.)

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  12. Cyperium I'm always me Valued Senior Member

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    It didn't get reproduced.

    EDIT: Sorry, Billy T beat me to it...

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  13. S.A.M. uniquely dreadful Valued Senior Member

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    Thanks Fraggle

    That was a great post
     
  14. Billy T Use Sugar Cane Alcohol car Fuel Valued Senior Member

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    When it has a commonly understood meaning by some group, even a small one. Some non-human apes have several distinct words and can even tell lies with them. Following has been observed in the wild:

    An old frail ape, a little separated from others in his group in tall grass field, found some berries. When a couple of other approach him he gave the cry (word) for tigger, lion, etc. (not the distinct word for eagle or snake).This caused those aproachng to turn and run towards a distant tree, while he continued to eat the berries.

    I have a very smart bird, a calopsita. It knows its name and has at least three distinct crys I know the meaning of. (One is still ambigius - probably is "thank you" but possibly just: "that was nice") He also has at least two "behavior words." - One is to put his head down when on back of chair near me. That means "I want my head petted." Likewise, my saying: "Would you like your head pet?" with the normal rising tone of any question, will often get head turning down to reply "Yes."

    The other non-verabal word is turning his back to me, sometimes even when I am offering a seed he likes or something he wants, like release for the cage. That means "I am angry with you. - I have been mistreated." This typically takes place when he has been held in the cage during daytime when he normally* is free to fly as he likes thru various rooms and I come to cage and open it to let him out. (He is caged only when we are away or after dark, except when windows must be opened.*) Soft rapid biting of myfinger is a game we play. (He wins if only one finger, but I can avoid bite with two quickly moving.) If there is a slight hiss with slower and somewhat stronger bites that means: "NO, I do not want too." (Sometimes his reply to "Do you want your head petted? AND usually his reply to "Its bed time, lets go to the cage.")

    Often he is very good, sits quietly on my shoulders or back of my computer chair as it gets dark outside. Frequently, then if I take him towards the cage on my finger, he will fly away. Once instead of just repeatedly flying to a distant perch as I approach, he went to another room and hid inside an empty box.

    He has the reactions and personality of a two year old. He understands at least 5 phrase in English and a couple in Portugueses, at least he behaves as if he understands them. Always will chirp a reply when I call his name (Sunshine). Usually, he will come when I only say "Come Sunshine." If I do not always know where he is, I get worried about him if I have not seen him for half an hour. (I am sure that part of his recognition of words, especially "NO" is aided by the tone of my voice.) He would be a terrible poker player - I can tell when he is considering doing something that is prohibited, like sitting on a table or cloth covered chair without protective plastic on it. I say "no" and he does not do it, usually. - The common exception is when he has been giving the "pay some attention to me and leave that dumb computer alone" cry. Then he will repeadly land on the table and get chased by a flip of the light cloth on my shoulders back to the window perch. Sometimes after many reps of this, I get annoyed and give him "time out" in his cage. He will show his anger at me when I come to release him: back turned and gone to rear of the cage, but I leave it open for him when he is thru pouting.

    Sunshine, wife and I are a small group, with small, but functional set of mutually understood words.
    --------------
    *Wife takes sunlight for vitamine D effect and then window must be open and bird in his cage. Normally during the day all windows are only open less than an inch.
     
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  15. Billy T Use Sugar Cane Alcohol car Fuel Valued Senior Member

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    Not limited to "human cultures" - more related to learning (even by machines) to speak words that are made with vowels and consonants.

    I can't just now remember his name, but there was a professor at JHU for one year who developed a neural network, called Net Talk. Some Scot, years ago had transcribe an English book into phonetic symbols and that pair of books was the training base for the neural network. (The network did not really speak directly but produced output for a voice synthesizer of about 8 or 10 command parameters such as "voiced or not")

    He gave a talk in which audio recordings of Net Talk's progress were played as it was learning how to pronounce words inputted as a string of length 8 or 10ASKI characters for the letters and spaces of a sentence. (A new one added as one was dropped one while the input whet thru the sentences to be read.) I.e. Net Talk had 8 or 10 parallel inputs. (I forget some of the details.) There are zillions of sentences already in ASKI characters for it to eventually read.

    In the early stages of the training period, there was just random noise produced, but then, rather abruptly net talk leaned to make the vowel sound <a>. Soon thereafter, it leaned to distinguish the plosive consonants from just voiced consonants. Then net talk pounced every word as some variation of ,<mama> , <papa> or <mapa> etc but adjusted the length and number of syllables correctly soon. I.e. for three syllable "character" Net Talk might make the speech synthesizer say <pa pa map> . Eventually, after many hours of training, Net Talk produced understandable speech on text it had never seen before, with a hit of a Scottish accent!
     
  16. S.A.M. uniquely dreadful Valued Senior Member

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    What is the oldest language that is still around?

    What is the reasoning behind the development of words and numbers? Any commonality in the evolution of words as concepts? Any exceptions?
     
  17. spidergoat Valued Senior Member

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    Interestingly, the Piraha people of Brazil have no words for numbers or colors. With many languages, it is impossible to say how old they are or where they come from. They change over time, so it's likely that no language exists uncorrupted for very long, especially ones with no written form.
     
  18. Billy T Use Sugar Cane Alcohol car Fuel Valued Senior Member

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    Yes. The visible spectrum is a continuum. How and where it is divided with color names assigned is arbitrary.

    All cultures have at least two words (corresponding to light and dark). If they have only one named color, it is always corresponds the relative large fraction of the spectrum we call "red." (I suspect related to color of blood.) Many do not have separate words for what we distinguish as blue and green. If they have four or more color words, one corresponds to "yellow" which is the smallest part of the spectral range with its own name. I think this is with a neurological base. - Yellow is part of the spectrum where the red detector sensitivity drop off crosses the green detectors sensitivity rise.

    Color is quite well understood, neurologically - activity in one set of nerves in M5 high corresponds to red (or green, I forget which) and lower than white light activity corresponds to green (or red ?). This is the red/green encoding axis. Another set of nervers makes the blue/yellow axis. It is the fatiguing of cells in M5, not in the retina, that makes you see green after staring at strong red spot when later looking at white paper.

    BTW, humans can be divided into two genetic groups, based on the green rhodopsin chemical. It is a slightly different molecule in one group from the other. I do not know what the child of two different parents is. Perhaps a mix, but perhaps one is dominate?
     
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  19. visceral_instinct Monkey see, monkey denigrate Valued Senior Member

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    According to a book called Your Mother's Tongue by Stephen Burgen, the words 'shit' 'fart' and 'arse' have been around since the 10th century.

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  20. draqon Banned Banned

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    Well than this Stephen Burgen is very selective on the foul words it seems.
     
  21. draqon Banned Banned

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    squeeze guts, is the oldest phrase.
     
  22. spidergoat Valued Senior Member

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    They say "like blood" for red, "dirty blood" for black, "like unripe fruit" for green, that's about it. They also cannot count, although they have words for big and small.
     
  23. Xylene Valued Senior Member

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    I would guess, without looking it up on Google or elsewhere, that any of the surviving Australian aboriginal languages would be the oldest still surviving one Earth--the other alternative would be some of the languages of Papua New Guinea. Failing them, the languages of the aborriginal hill tribes of India such as the Gonds, or the Veddah of Sri Lanka.

    BTW, I read in the Guiness Book of Records that the word 'crag' was pre-Celtic, pre-Indo-European, and an extremely old survival in the English language.
     

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