Recreating the Origins of Language

Bible and archaeology news

Epigraphers have a hard enough time tracing the evolution and spread of ancient writing systems. How do linguistic scholars conceive of the languages of our preliterate ancestors? After identifying patterns in the evolution of language, linguists can reverse the process to recreate ancient sound systems. This involves analysis of large quantities of “Big Data;” this can be an extremely long process. University of British Columbia and University of California, Berkeley researchers have developed computer software that can reconstruct protolanguages out of a synthesis of modern languages. A recent study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science combined 637 Austronesian languages and 142,000 words to reconstruct a common ancestor 7,000 years ago. 85 percent of the resulting words were within one character of a similar study conducted by linguists. The researchers hope that the new software will serve as an accelerated aid for linguistic researchers, rather than a disruptive replacement of traditional methods.

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Interested in the latest archaeological technology? Researchers Thomas E. Levy, Neil G. Smith, Mohammad Najjar, Thomas A. DeFanti, Albert Yu-Min Lin and Falko Kuester at the University of California, San Diego’s Calit2 laboratory recently released the FREE Biblical Archaeology Society eBook “Cyber-Archaeology in the Holy Land — The Future of the Past,” featuring the latest research on GPS, Light Detection and Ranging Laser Scanning, unmanned aerial drones, 3D artifact scans, CAVE visualization environments and much more.
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  1. Seer says

    A software like this will be perfected when it can identify the 15% of the words that it cannot identify and leave it to linguists to recreate. Rather than spending time on Polynesian languages with all due respect, a tool like this is needed to be taken to Africa to retrace the mother of all tongues that was spoken by the early Homo Sapiens.

  2. Dallas says

    Read The Origin of Language, by Merritt Ruhlen, a student of the late Joseph Greenberg. Love it, hate it, learn it :)

  3. Louis says

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