Mark Pagel, evolutionary biologist at the University of Reading, and colleagues have identified some of the oldest words in the English language using computer analyses:
Reading University researchers claim "I", "we", "two" and "three" are among the most ancient, dating back tens of thousands of years. [...]
At the root of the Reading University effort is a lexicon of 200 words that is not specific to culture or technology, and is therefore likely to represent concepts that have not changed across nations or millennia.
"We have lists of words that linguists have produced for us that tell us if two words in related languages actually derive from a common ancestral word," said Professor Pagel. [...]
For example, the words "I" and "who" are among the oldest, along with the words "two", "three", and "five". The word "one" is only slightly younger.
William the Conqueror (Getty)
Time-travellers would find a few sounds familiar in William's words
The word "four" experienced a linguistic evolutionary leap that makes it significantly younger in English and different from other Indo-European languages.
Meanwhile, the fastest-changing words are projected to die out and be replaced by other words much sooner.
For example, "dirty" is a rapidly changing word; currently there are 46 different ways of saying it in the Indo-European languages, all words that are unrelated to each other. As a result, it is likely to die out soon in English, along with "stick" and "guts".
Verbs also tend to change quite quickly, so "push", "turn", "wipe" and "stab" appear to be heading for the lexicographer's chopping block.