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Thread: The evolution of language throughout the ages

  1. #1 The evolution of language throughout the ages 
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    I'd like to have a conversation on all aspects of language. It's origins, it's development, it's current state, it's problems and it's advantages. Bassically anything about language is more than welcome.

    I'd also like to know more about the nature of language and it's development globally.

    Anything you want to share, or anything you want to know about anything to do with language please join in and hopefully we can get a fascinating and informative conversation going about the subject of language.
    I'm told language was first written in ancient Summeria 6000 (8000?) years ago. I heard some of these words are still in use today such as alchohol, cane, wheel and a few others I don't remember. Not sure if they were pronounced in the same way back then, i'm pretty sure they were not spelt the same (as the alphabet was invented in greece I beleive). I have no idea if this info is true, maybe some of you know better?

    An interesting fact I heard on radio 2 today is that for 300 years following the norman invasion in 1066, the predominant language in england was french. Whether french in those days resembles modern french in anyway I don't know? But it seems modern english probably doesn't ressemble any english dated pre 1350 (to me). Have we adopted many old english words in modern english? Was there a renaisance of english at some point after the norman integration, or was a new language made up?

    Modern english seems to have been heavily influenced by shakespear, and the english bible (king James version). Was shakespear himself influenced by the kJB? Did he write it? Did Francis Bacon write it? Who wrote it? It seems Elisabeth the 1st was responsible for a revolution in education which resulted in the likes of shakespear and Bacon. Anybody feel like sharing anything about this era in the english language?

    Another thing i'd like to understand is why so many nations speak a language derived from latin/greek? any insights into this would be great. How many nations speak a greek/latin based language? What other languages have 'given birth to' many languages in this way? Would be good to hear about development of eastern and african languages too.

    I've put a lot in the intro, but if you just want to post a simple fact or adress one of the questions thats great.

    I put this in history, but I'd like to learn more about the current state of language. History seemed the least disagreeable catergory for the evolution of language.


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    Forum Cosmic Wizard icewendigo's Avatar
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    You start knowing no language, you pick it up from people around you. People in diverse environments and engaged in diverse activities about which they wish to communicate will use diverse ways to express themselves. I think some monkeys have a sound for snake(ground threat) and another for eagle(air threat), so language started out probably with simple survival and basic relation communication. There is a great diversity of things to communicate about among humans because we live in diverse environments, diverse cultures and subcultures. Language is imo organic, it evolves, splits, diverges, mixes, merges. Many words commonly used in the medieval times are no longer used as much and many new concepts and realities are now part of the subjects we need to communicate about. We use new words to communicate about something new or for which we dont know an expression, this new word can be invented by anyone and eventually one version will be more popular and become the reference or we may adopt a word from the culture that introduced the concept or has focused more on it. Many words come from other languages, often its about something this culture was at least talking about more than your own. People that live close to the arctic have more words or expressions to describe the various textures of snow than people living in warm climates. Even acronyms have multiple meanings which require the person to have a context of reference to know what you mean.

    I am guessing antiquities Greeks were first to talk more about quite a few concepts, and the Roman Empire probably had an influence in spreading latin, (because people in southern Europe were more exposed to it than to Japanese).


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    Brassica oleracea Strange's Avatar
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    This is an enormous subject, much of which is unknown (e.g. the origin of language) so I will just pick up on one point ...

    Quote Originally Posted by question for you View Post
    Another thing i'd like to understand is why so many nations speak a language derived from latin/greek?
    Latin and Greek (and the languages related to them) are in the Indo-European language family. Most languages in Europe, and many in parts of the Middle East (e.g. Persian) and the Indian subcontinent are part of this language family. You can see similarities between many of them based on their common origin. for example, the Indian word maharaja (great king) is related to English "major" and "royal".

    From historical linguistics (the study of how language changes over time) it is possible to reconstruct the likely form of the original language (proto-Indo-European) that all these languages evolved from. This is generally though to have been spoken something like 4,000BC or earlier. There are a number of theories about where it may have originated, probably Eastern Europe.

    You like pictures, so here is a diagram of Indo-European languages: File:IndoEuropeanTree.svg - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    Note that there are several languages spoken in Europe which are not part of the Indo-European family. Some examples are Finnish and Hungarian, Turkish, Basque and others...

    There have been attempts to relate Indo-European to other language families and even reconstruct something of the original language they have all evolved from. This is very controversial.

    A map of languages and language families here: File:Human Language Families Map.PNG - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    Without wishing to overstate my case, everything in the observable universe definitely has its origins in Northamptonshire -- Alan Moore
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    Quote Originally Posted by Strange View Post
    Latin and Greek (and the languages related to them) are in the Indo-European language family. the Indian word maharaja (great king) is related to English "major" and "royal".
    Thats very interesting.

    When you say indian do you mean sanskrit?

    this 'indo- european' label isn't sitting well with me... Surely it's indo, or its european? if it's merged from the two, then why would the greeks adopt 'indo' language and merge it with already existing european?

    By indo you mean indian? by indian you mean snaskrit?

    Quote Originally Posted by Strange View Post
    From historical linguistics (the study of how language changes over time) it is possible to reconstruct the likely form of the original language (proto-Indo-European) that all these languages evolved from. This is generally though to have been spoken something like 4,000BC or earlier. There are a number of theories about where it may have originated, probably Eastern Europe.
    I'm struggling to get my head around this proto indo european concept. It just isnt making sense to me. India and europe are a fair old trek from each other.

    I might be misunderstanding what 'indo' means... India was a civilised before greece, and sanskrit was spoken in india right?

    What actual evidence is there for this 'proto indo european' language? and what did it most resemble out of our modern languages?

    Quote Originally Posted by Strange View Post
    You like pictures, so here is a diagram of Indo-European languages: File:IndoEuropeanTree.svg - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    Thats not a picture, it's a diagram. Very interesting.

    But if proto indo european was a single language pre 3700 BC then what about sumerian language 6000 bc??? Something is amiss here surely?

    Quote Originally Posted by Strange View Post
    I cant read the text on this map... if I click full resolution then I cant see the key top left.

    It even has a colour for caucasian... I never knew there was a caucasian language!
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    [QUOTE=icewendigo;363565]You start knowing no language, you pick it up from people around you. People in diverse environments and engaged in diverse activities about which they wish to communicate will use diverse ways to express themselves. I think some monkeys have a sound for snake(ground threat) and another for eagle(air threat), so language started out probably with simple survival and basic relation communication.[QUOTE]


    Interesting ideas about the beginings of language. You've gone back into the subject further than I was thinking. I hadn't even considered early roars and screams of cave dwelling ancestors, or even the development of body language which is ofcourse a very important area of comunication. I was thinking more organised languages that we know today and organised languages they might have stemmed from.
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    Brassica oleracea Strange's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by question for you View Post
    this 'indo- european' label isn't sitting well with me... Surely it's indo, or its european? if it's merged from the two, then why would the greeks adopt 'indo' language and merge it with already existing european?
    It is a grouping of related languages. In the same way that we can say the English, Danish, German and others are Germanic languages. Or French, Italian and Spanish are Latin languages.

    By indo you mean indian? by indian you mean snaskrit?
    Yes. And the various other related languages spoken in and around the area.

    I'm struggling to get my head around this proto indo european concept. It just isnt making sense to me. India and europe are a fair old trek from each other.
    People move. And take their language with them. The main reason that Latin languages are spoken so widely across Europe is because the Roman Empire spread that far and Latin was the standard language.

    What actual evidence is there for this 'proto indo european' language?
    Mainly from historical linguistics. We have a large number of living and dead languages and we can analyse the relationships between them. Some aspects of language change are very predictable so, like genetic analysis, it is possible build a "family tree" of languages. As shown in that picture diagram.

    and what did it most resemble out of our modern languages?
    None, really. It appears to have had some sounds that don't occur in any modern languages. But there are words that are almost recognisable. There are a few examples here: Indo-European vocabulary - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    But if proto indo european was a single language pre 3700 BC then what about sumerian language 6000 bc???
    Sumerian is not an Indo-European language. In fact, it doesn't appear to be related to any other known languages.

    if I click full resolution then I cant see the key top left.
    Scroll bars? Or save to your desktop and open in something else? (I recommend Irfan View as a good, simple image viewer.)

    It even has a colour for caucasian... I never knew there was a caucasian language!
    Actually, a family of languages which includes things like Georgian and Chechen.
    Without wishing to overstate my case, everything in the observable universe definitely has its origins in Northamptonshire -- Alan Moore
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    Anybody know anything about gen as seen in the words oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen....

    I beleive it means 'genus' or seed... as in a seed that other matter is born from.

    So would hydrogen be possibly the seed of hydro, or the thing water is born from...

    Oxy I think had something to do with sharp or pointed, so acidity. Oxygen was first thought to be the thing that acids are born from, but now science knows better doesn't it? So why would the stuff we breath be named 'The thing sharp acid is born from'? (oxu-= sharp,acid)

    This might sound crazy, but i'm just trying to look at the origins of the name in order to see if it helps me to gain a deeper understanding. Oxidisation must be an acidifying process.

    Presumably nitro means fire and nitro gen is the seed of fire?
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  9. #8  
    Brassica oleracea Strange's Avatar
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    I think that is pretty close. The -gen suffix implies "something that produces". So oxygen was thought to create acids; hydrogen creates water (when burnt). Nitrogen seems a bit confused.

    For the origin of words, you might like this: Online Etymology Dictionary
    It is limited and not always correct but a handy first source.

    (By the way, those individual bits of words with meaning are called "morphemes" - just so you know this fields has its specialized jargon as well!)
    Without wishing to overstate my case, everything in the observable universe definitely has its origins in Northamptonshire -- Alan Moore
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    Quote Originally Posted by Strange View Post
    It is a grouping of related languages. In the same way that we can say the English, Danish, German and others are Germanic languages. Or French, Italian and Spanish are Latin languages.
    Yes thats my point.. we dont call them anglo-germanic or dano germanic... we just call it germanic. So why not call it sanskrit instead of indo european? For experts to say the original language is a mixture of two previous languages is... (I don't want to use the word but have to, forgive me) misinformation.

    Quote Originally Posted by Strange View Post
    The main reason that Latin languages are spoken so widely across Europe is because the Roman Empire spread that far and Latin was the standard language.
    Ok... So why did the (catholic?) roman empire end up creating a load of varients based it's language? It could have just introduced it's latin language as it was and therefore all european nations with a language based on latin could all understand each other.
    Quote Originally Posted by Strange View Post
    But if proto indo european was a single language pre 3700 BC then what about sumerian language 6000 bc???
    Sumerian is not an Indo-European language. In fact, it doesn't appear to be related to any other known languages.
    What is the Sumerian language called on that diagram you shared?

    Quote Originally Posted by Strange View Post
    I never knew there was a caucasian language!
    Actually, a family of languages which includes things like Georgian and Chechen.
    Georgian? as in king George?

    I wonder why hitler didn't try to do away with germanic and replace it with a caucasian language? was that a part of his plan? i'm being a little silly.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Strange View Post
    The -gen suffix implies "something that produces".

    (By the way, those individual bits of words with meaning are called "morphemes" - just so you know this fields has its specialized jargon as well!)
    Morphe-gen.... something that produces the form of languages?
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  12. #11  
    Brassica oleracea Strange's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by question for you View Post
    Yes thats my point.. we dont call them anglo-germanic or dano germanic... we just call it germanic. So why not call it sanskrit instead of indo european? For experts to say the original language is a mixture of two previous languages is... (I don't want to use the word but have to, forgive me) misinformation.
    It's just a name. I assume, historically it is because people grouped all the European languages together as the "European" family. Then someone noticed that they were also related to languages spoken in and around India. It would be odd to either call the Indian languages European, or the European languages Indian so they naturally called the larger group Indo-European.

    It wouldn't make any sense to call it Sanskrit, that is just one of the languages in the family.

    Ok... So why did the (catholic?) roman empire end up creating a load of varients based it's language? It could have just introduced it's latin language as it was and therefore all european nations with a language based on latin could all understand each other.
    They did. But then it changed. Because people in each area already spoke slightly differently (they had their own languages) so the pronunciation would have varied. And they would have had different pre-existing local words for things. And they would have modified the grammar slightly to match their local language. And just because language changes over time and it would have changed differently in each place.

    The Empire didn't care as long as people knew enough standard Latin to communicate.

    Look at all the different dialects of English spoken around the world from America to Australia, India to Singapore. Some of these are almost at the stage of being mutually incomprehensible. But they all started out as the same (relatively) standard language.

    What is the Sumerian language called on that diagram you shared?
    Languages like that are called isolates. Sumerian isn't on the diagram because it has been dead for too long and doesn't represent a larger language family. The only isolate on there is Basque - one of the few widely-spoken isolates still around.

    Georgian? as in king George?
    No, as in Georgia. The country, not the US state.

    I wonder why hitler didn't try to do away with germanic and replace it with a caucasian language?
    He would have preferred to have everyone speak German, I'm sure. (Don't get confused between the language and the, arguably meaningless, racial description.)
    Without wishing to overstate my case, everything in the observable universe definitely has its origins in Northamptonshire -- Alan Moore
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    Who introduced the greek ellement to many of these latin languages?

    I understand how Rome, when taking over the beleifs of peoples and replacing them with there own monotheistic beleif system.... would adopt many of the pagan beleifs in order to help the new order to be accepted. At least thats the excuse for all the pagan symbolism found on many churches.

    It might just as well have been that the leaders of christianity had an esoteric version of truth which involved these paganesque beleifs.

    The fact sumerian isnt on there has annoyed me and caused me to question the thouroughness of the diagram as well as the validity of it. Had I never heard of sumerian I might have followed that diagram and beleived it represented the history of language as we know it, it doesn't.
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    Brassica oleracea Strange's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by question for you View Post
    The fact sumerian isnt on there has annoyed me and caused me to question the thouroughness of the diagram as well as the validity of it. Had I never heard of sumerian I might have followed that diagram and beleived it represented the history of language as we know it, it doesn't.
    It is not a diagram of every language but of language families. Outside of the Indo-European family, it lists three specific languages, Basque, Korean and Japanese. All languages which are currently in use. Basque is not related to any language and the affiliations of Korean and Japanese are uncertain. So effectively, they are families of one. There are dozens, maybe hundreds of extinct languages that we know of that do not form part of any known family (Etruscan, Iberian, ...). There are also many thousands of dead languages not shown on there.

    So what is special about Sumerian? There are probably a small number of loan words from Sumerian that may have survived to the modern day but apart from that it is dead and left no descendants.
    Without wishing to overstate my case, everything in the observable universe definitely has its origins in Northamptonshire -- Alan Moore
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    Brassica oleracea Strange's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by question for you View Post
    Who introduced the greek ellement to many of these latin languages?
    Partly the Romans borrowing ideas from the Greek philosophers and writers (and just general contact between the cultures over centuries). Partly via the Islamic world, which brought much ancient learning back to Europe. Partly new borrowings for scientific, technical, culinary and cultural purposes.
    Without wishing to overstate my case, everything in the observable universe definitely has its origins in Northamptonshire -- Alan Moore
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    Ok so i'd be looking for an evolutionary tree rather than a family tree...

    What is so special about sumerian is that I have previously heard of it. It is or was recently thought of as the first language. Much more credible than some indo-european mongrel being the prototype.
    It does have words that still exist, apparently, therefore it is not dead. I seriously doubt a language as significant as that could have come and gone without leaving a trace in the world of language.
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    Is it true that english is the most complex language and hardest to understand?

    It's probably the most common second language in the world isn't it? What positives does the english language have going for it? except that it's the one I speak.
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    Brassica oleracea Strange's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by question for you View Post
    Ok so i'd be looking for an evolutionary tree rather than a family tree...
    Is that different?

    What is so special about sumerian is that I have previously heard of it. It is or was recently thought of as the first language.
    Ah, I see. It was the first written language (closely followed by Chinese and Ancient Egyptian). Definitely not the first language. We have records of other languages spoken at the time.

    It does have words that still exist, apparently, therefore it is not dead.
    That is not waht "dead" means. Latin is a dead language. There are no (native) speakers of it any more.
    Without wishing to overstate my case, everything in the observable universe definitely has its origins in Northamptonshire -- Alan Moore
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    Brassica oleracea Strange's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by question for you View Post
    Is it true that english is the most complex language and hardest to understand?
    I don't think there is any generic measure of complexity. It depends what you measure and what your native language is. English has far more vowels than, say, Italian but far fewer cases than Finnish. It has a relatively simple grammar because of its fixed word order but it adds complexity in the form of phrasal verbs (take on, get up).

    If you speak Italian then Spanish will be easy but Chinese difficult. But if you speak Thai, then maybe Chinese would be easier than Spanish.

    When I started learning Chinese, I found it surprisingly easy. The biggest problem was having no vocabulary to start from.

    It's probably the most common second language in the world isn't it?
    Or is it Spanish?

    What positives does the english language have going for it?
    America? (And the British Empire)
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    Quote Originally Posted by Strange View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by question for you View Post
    Ok so i'd be looking for an evolutionary tree rather than a family tree...
    Is that different?
    I think it must be, as the family tree doesn't include all branches and families that ever existed.

    Like a human's family tree will not guide them back to the point at which there ancestor diverged from the apes. Where as the evolutionary tree aims to log this point.

    Quote Originally Posted by Strange View Post
    That is not waht "dead" means. Latin is a dead language. There are no (native) speakers of it any more.
    If latin is dead then we have evidence of multiple reincarnations.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Strange View Post
    What positives does the english language have going for it?
    America? (And the British Empire)
    No comment

    Oh ok.. just one! English is a good language to dominate much of the world with... Perhaps thats because it has so many languages within it.

    One generic measure of complexity might be the amount of languages that are incorporated into one specific language
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    Brassica oleracea Strange's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Strange View Post
    It was the first written language (closely followed by Chinese and Ancient Egyptian).
    Here is an interesting bit of trivia. Writing has only been independently invented a few times: Sumerian cuneiform, Chinese, Egyptian hieroglyphs, and Mayan. I think that's about it. And it is possible that the Egyptians got the idea from Babylon. Almost all writing systems are derived from these.

    Most European, Middle-Eastern and some Asian scripts are derived from Egyptian: the alphabet, Greek, Russian, Arabic, Hebrew, the various Indian writing systems, Thai, Vietnamese, Mongolian ...

    A few are derived from Chinese - Japanese is the most obvious example.

    A small number have been created (almost) from scratch: Korean, Cherokee and a few others.

    There are also a few undeciphered writing systems which may or may not be related to any of these.
    question for you likes this.
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  23. #22  
    Forum Cosmic Wizard icewendigo's Avatar
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    Also note that people in England that were talking of Ox and Sheep were not talking as much about Contitution when they first heard about that concept, and having no pre-existing word most probably simply took the word "constitution" from those they were talking about it. That's in part why in many languages you have foreign words (usually to designate something that was not as talked about in the original local language).


    In addition, cultures with more exposure to other cultures through travel and trade, probably end up integrating more foreign words, than lets say an isolated tribe in the amazon jungle.
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    I've always figured that writing was invented by merchants because they needed a way to keep track of their wares. It's almost impossible to run a business without some kind of a ledger to tell you who owes you money, and who you owe money to, and how much of each item you have in stock.

    Also if you want nobody else to read it, it's fairly easy to devise your own code. You could totally invent your own ledger language that is unintelligible to anyone but you.

    Anyway, it would start out as something you write only for your own eyes. You make a symbol for small pots, then one for big pots, then one for wheat seeds..... etc. Then you come up with some kind of markings for the number of that item you have. It's easy to use and master because it's only intended as an aid to memory. If you forget what a symbol means, you can always just try to remember what it was you were trying to record in the first place. After a while, merchants start swapping symbolic systems, and it starts to become more comprehensive.
    Some clocks are only right twice a day, but they are still right when they are right.
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