Posted: Mon Feb 04, 2008 10:26 am
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/main.j ... ang131.xml
A new study on the evolution of language.The debate about language evolution parallels arguments in biological evolution; that is, do most changes come about slowly and gradually, or do most changes happen rapidly within relatively short spans of time? Prof Pagel's team previously documented that bursts of evolution are common in biological species.
Now, "by analysing the current distribution of vocabulary terms across related languages, we can infer what processes must have been operating over the last few thousand years to produce the language variation we see today," says Dr Atkinson.
The study argues that most of the differences between languages come in these rapid "punctuational" bursts. For instance, 31 per cent of vocabulary differences among Bantu language speakers, 21 per cent of differences among Indo-European languages and 9.5 per cent of differences in Austronesian languages arose at or around the time that the languages split off from each other.
The rapid changes seem to come at critical times of cultural evolution, such as during the emergence of new and rival groups.