Using Evolutionary Ideas in Linguistics

I found an article in Nature about the research of Russell Gray and Quentin Atkinson, at the University of Auckland in New Zealand.

[They] use the rate at which words change to gauge the age of the [language] tree’s roots – just as [evolutionary] biologists estimate a species’ age from the rate of gene mutations. [They] analysed 87 languages from Irish to Afghan. Rather than compare entire dictionaries, they used a list of 200 words that are found in all cultures, such as “I”, “hunt” and “sky”. Words are better understood than grammar as a guide to language history; the same sentence structure can arise independently in different tonguges.

At the end of the article, geneticist David Searls says that “There may be some fundamental principles of evolution of complex systems, such as languages and organisms.”

The above was posted to my personal weblog on March 21, 2004. My name is Peter Lindberg and I am a thirtysomething software developer and dad living in Stockholm, Sweden. Here, you’ll find posts in English and Swedish about whatever happens to interest me for the moment.

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