Field of Science

Say Hello in the Pleistocene

Say hello in the Pleistocene.

A linguistic analysis of languages argues that similarities identify old words, essentially demonstrating a shared ancestry. According to this analysis the oldest words are: I, Who, We, Thou, Two, Three and Five. Go back 10,000 years and say, “Who we two?” And you stand a good chance of making yourself understood, if that sentence actually makes any sense. I mean, surely the speaker knows who one of the two people are, themselves. Clearly this isn’t much of a vocabulary to work with. But the idea is that certain sounds associated with certain ideas haven’t changed too much and are quite similar across languages.

The authors say these words are resistant to change (OK the article uses the term evolution, but they mean just change). Words that are changing rapidly are more likely to disappear, e.g., dirty, squeeze, bad, because, guts, push (verb), smell (verb), stab, stick (noun), turn (verb), wipe. Apparently the more colorful the word, the better it sounds, the more subject to change. Hmm, there isn’t much here to make me shed a tear if the word disappeared because we could still say: soiled, crush, ill (naughty?), as, entrails (fortitude?), detect by olfaction (who nose?), stick (oops!), limb, flip/veer, handkerchief. Sounds like the Phactor could use some help with more suggestions of single word replacements for these soon to vanish bits of language.

A word I wonder about is beer. That seems pretty consistent across several languages. And it’s far more useful than “squeeze”. So you find the local Pleistocene saloon and say, “Two thou beer.” Now we be getting somewhere.

1 comment:

Larissa said...

a Pleistocene bar?! Now there's an idea. Just think of the decor! Too bad it's near impossible to get a small business loan these days!