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He concluded that the similarities are indistinguishable from those that would have arisen by chance.

The roots of language | Paul Ibbotson and Michael Tomasello | Science | The Guardian

As a test of his analytical technique, Dr. Ringe applied the same method to two Indo-European languages, which are known to be related, and found that the similarities there are indeed statistically significant.


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But some linguists believe Dr. Ringe is misinterpreting his own statistics.

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Manaster Ramer argues that Dr. Ringe, who has accused the Nostraticists of "innumeracy," is himself engaging in "pseudomathematics.

Manaster Ramer believes that the probability distribution that Dr. Ringe found for Nostratic is exactly what would be expected in languages that split apart long ago and developed independently. The true test of whether languages are related is not statistical comparisons, he insists, but the tools of historical linguistic analysis. If one can find answers in Uralic and Altaic to puzzles in Indo-European, like the five-fist connection, he says, that strengthens the argument for an ancestral Nostratic tongue. Historical linguists start with two languages they suspect are related, then search for potential cognates -- words like the Italian "luce" "light" and "pace" "peace" , which appear in Spanish as "luz" and "paz.

In actual practice, the correspondences between related words are usually far more convoluted and opaque to superficial examination. English and Armenian both are believed to descend from proto-Indo-European. But it takes a great deal of linguistic manipulation to show how the Armenian word for two, "erku," is related to its English counterpart. To add to the confusion, words that seem similar can turn out to be unrelated.

Linguists consider it coincidental that the German word for "awl" happens to be "ahle," or that the Aztec word for "well" is "huel.


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There are other mirages that can create the illusion of a deep historical wellspring. Baby words like "papa" and "mama" are common across languages probably because the labial consonants -- those made with the lips -- are among the first that children learn. Onomatopoeic words like "clash" or "meow" also tend to turn up independently in unrelated languages. And of course languages borrow words from one another all the time.

A Japanese office worker can log off her "konpyuutaa" and head for "Makudonarudo" to grab a "hanbaagaa" and a steaming cup of "hotto kohii" for lunch.

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To avoid being misled by such specious similarities, linguists try to concentrate on basic words -- numbers, parts of the body -- likely to have been embedded in a language from the start. As reconstructed by linguistic archeologists, the ancient Indo-European word for five was "penkwe," which became "pente" in Greek, "quinque" in Latin and "panca" in Sanskrit. One can immediately see surface similarities between "penkwe" and the Indo-European roots for fist, "pnkwstis" and finger "penkweros. Finding few clues within Indo-European itself, Dr.

Middle English (1100-1500)

Manaster Ramer looked farther afield. Linguists examining Finnish, Hungarian and Estonian had reconstructed an ancient Uralic root, "peyngo," meaning fist or palm of the hand. And from Turkish, Mongolian and related languages, linguists had reconstructed the corresponding word in Altaic: "p'aynga. Working backward from Uralic and Altaic, Dr. Manaster Ramer reconstructed a hypothetical Nostratic antecedent, "payngo. In another attempt to show that the Indo-European languages descended from Nostratic, Dr. Towards the end of Middle English, a sudden and distinct change in pronunciation the Great Vowel Shift started, with vowels being pronounced shorter and shorter.

From the 16th century the British had contact with many peoples from around the world. This, and the Renaissance of Classical learning, meant that many new words and phrases entered the language. The invention of printing also meant that there was now a common language in print. Books became cheaper and more people learned to read. Printing also brought standardization to English. Spelling and grammar became fixed, and the dialect of London, where most publishing houses were, became the standard. In the first English dictionary was published.

Late Modern English has many more words, arising from two principal factors: firstly, the Industrial Revolution and technology created a need for new words; secondly, the British Empire at its height covered one quarter of the earth's surface, and the English language adopted foreign words from many countries. From around , the English colonization of North America resulted in the creation of a distinct American variety of English. Some English pronunciations and words "froze" when they reached America.

Some expressions that the British call "Americanisms" are in fact original British expressions that were preserved in the colonies while lost for a time in Britain for example trash for rubbish, loan as a verb instead of lend, and fall for autumn; another example, frame-up , was re-imported into Britain through Hollywood gangster movies. They domesticated horses and learned to ride them. One is linguistic the other genetic.

It offers compelling evidence supporting the Steppe Hypothesis. He and colleagues took words from Indo-European languages. Some were from dead languages, others are still spoken today. They wanted to find out how quickly the words changed over time. From there, Chang and colleagues discovered that the first linguistic divergence occurred c.

By cross-referencing these findings with an analysis of the Indo-European language tree, Chang and colleagues concluded that conquering Indo-Europeans spread PIE as they moved westward. Reich distinguished himself recently by discovering that certain ailments, including hay fever, derive from Neanderthal genes. Researchers also poured through all previous genomic research of this kind. They found that European hunter-gatherers came from the Yamnaya steppe in Russia, appearing around 6, to 5, years ago.

These herders originated in the Near East. This study suggests that the Yamnaya Steppe people swept through from the East, settling Europe, and so in essence became the Corded Ware people. Most Europeans today can actually trace their ancestry back to the Corded Ware people, genetic evidence suggests. As their innovations spread, so did their language. Both camps offer compelling evidence.