Language evolution

According to an article I found today, languages tend to evolve in short bursts. The happens when groups of people coin lots of new words to describe their world.

Researchers have used computer programs normally used to study biologically evolution to study the development of basic vocabulary in 490 languages in Europe, Asia and Africa. They found that many new words appear in a short burst over a few generations when a new language starts to develop.

The new words could arise as way of differentiating new languages from related languages, and also to reinforce group identity. The researchers also suggest that small groups sometimes develop now forms of language based on linguistic idiosyncrasies of their founder members.

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This entry was posted in Evolution, Language.

0 Responses to Language evolution

  1. Nik says:

    It seems that grammatical traits can evolve in bursts, too. My personal theory is that, as a language gradually evolves, it acquires an increasing number of irregularities, special cases, idiosyncratic expressions, gramtical gaps, and the like, until it reaches a critical level, at which point, the language beings to “repair” itself, setting in motion further changes as the new structures conflict with older elements.

  2. timoth says:

    Didn’t that happen with William Shakesphere ?

    There are so many words he created, in his stories, poems, and Theatrical Plays – that it’s not even funny.

  3. did this happen with the development of Anglo-Saxon into ‘English’ within a few generations?

  4. Joel Linton says:

    I see an accumulation of information and vocabulary, often from borrowing, or coining, but at the same time a degeneration of complexity and beauty in grammar, and expressiveness of fine shades of emotional meaning. (Not quite to the extreme of pidgin, but in that direction on the continuum.) Are there counter-examples?

    Classical Greek to Koine Greek to Modern Greek
    Old-English to Modern English
    Classical Chinese to Mandarin (You can still see a higher degree expressive beauty, complexity and word usage in older Chinese languages like Taiwanese, Cantonese or Hakka).

    I guess when people feel the need to express something, then they will come up with a word for it. But at the same time, there are major grammatical and inflectional complexities in more ancient languages that seem to be dimished in modern ones.

    Perhaps great literary/cultural tranforming creative geniuses help to reset the clock?

    What role does education policy play in the evolution of languages?