At the end of the last ice age, a single language fractured, until it became the languages we speak across Asia and Europe.
At least 15,000 years ago, a single language started to break up. It broke into about seven different languages and, over the next 5,000 years, splintered into thousands more. Those languages became what’s spoken by billions throughout Europe and Asia.The seven languages are part of a “superfamily” of Eurasiatic languages, the Guardian reports, a long-debated theory on the history of human speech. It’s tough to definitively trace back words when about half of words are replaced by completely different words every 2,000 to 4,000 years, but the British team advancing the super-languages theory has already shown in another study that certain words stay the same for tens of thousands of years longer. Using a computer model to search for words that only changed very, very rarely, the team determined which modern words likely sounded similar to the same words in ancient languages, then checked their results against a list of words reconstructed by linguists. That pointed them to a split from a common language at about 15,000 years ago.
Also interesting are some of the “ultraconserved” words that seldom changed throughout history: Frequently used words like “I” and “we” understandably have a long history but also, inexplicably, the verb “to spit.” Apparently spitting is essential to our development as humans. …
… they started from a pool of 200 words that linguists know to be the core vocabulary of all languages, and then tried to work out which of them had common meanings and a similar sound in different languages. Once they’d done that, they tried to work out how the words were shared across different languages stretching back in time, and what root words they’d been associated with.
The result is a list of 23 words which appear to be common to four or more language families through time. It’s unlikely that similar sounding words cropped up by accident, and the fact they’ve endured is probably down to the fact that they are common and important to daily life. All of which means, of course, that if you were to go back in time – even 15,000 years – you might, just about, maybe, possibly be able to communicate with whoever you meet. …
Here are the 23 words:
thou, I, not, that, we, to give, who, this, what, man/male, ye, old, mother, to hear, hand, fire, to pull, black, to flow, bark, ashes, to spit, worm