Map shows the regions with languages descending from the 7 Eurasiatic language families (Image: Pagel et al./PNAS)
We're all just part of a big, happy, linguistic family. Evolutionary biologist Mark Pagel of Reading University claimed that languages across Europe and Asia - from English to Urdo, Japanese and Itelmen (Itel-what? Look it up) - are all descended from the same tongue dating back to the last ice age:
Most words have a 50% chance of being replaced by an unrelated term every 2,000-4,000 years.
But some words last much longer. In a previous study, Pagel's team showed that certain words – among them frequently used pronouns, numbers and adverbs – survived for tens of thousands of years before other words replaced them.
For their latest study, Pagel used a computer model to predict words that changed so rarely that they should sound the same in the different Eurasiatic languages. They then checked their list against a database of early words reconstructed by linguists. "Sure enough," said Pagel, "the words we predicted would be similar, were similar."
Pagel listed 23 "ultraconserved" words that endured:
- To give
- To hear
- To pull
- To flow
- To spit
Most of the words, like "Mother" or "I," are common - so that makes sense. But what's up with "Bark"?
"Bark was really important to early people," said Pagel. "They used it as insulation, to start fires, and they made fibres from it. But I couldn't say I expected "to spit" to be there. I have no idea why. I have to throw my hands up."
Ian Sample of The Guardian has the post: Link