BEACON TRANSCRIPT – The fact that world languages share a common ancestry has been known for a while. Now, linguists have revealed a peculiar pattern. Many basic words in different languages share meaning and sound, even if the two languages are not closely related.
The results of this research were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. They could complicate further research into the evolution of world languages.
Words from different geographic areas do not sound the same at a first glance. Scientists quote the example of the word “bird” which translates into “ptitsa” – in Russian, “ndege” in Swahili and “tori” in Japanese.
The generally accepted theory of languages is that there is no connection between meaning and sound. This idea is 100 years old – according to the lead author of the research, Damian Blasi, from the University of Zurich in Switzerland.
Damian Blasi and his team did not have a lot of data to either support or reject this theory. But with the help of computers, they could do an unprecedented cross-language analysis, which involved hundreds foreign languages at the same time.
Their analysis had a lot of interesting conclusions.
One would be that some words are not connected in meaning and sound. “Snow” is one such example, because it only exists in some parts of the world.
Many languages have similar sounds because they have a common ancestor. The word “hospital” sounds almost the same in Spanish and French because they are both languages derived from Latin.
Other words have been borrowed from French by the English, following the Norman Conquest. And yet more words simply are shared because of cultural similarities and migration.
However, when scientists looked at 100 basic concepts, similar sounds started appearing across languages. If we take basic words in consideration, like body parts or family members, words start to sound relatively the same.
The conclusions are useful to linguists because they help them uncover older languages. These findings enable scientists to tell what type of accent people of the olden days had and how different languages evolved. They could even come up with new methods of teaching foreign languages so that people can learn them easier.
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