The Loh Down On Science

The language that English evolved from is older than you imagine

Image courtesy of Pagel et al., PNAS, 2013.

Fig. 1. Map showing approximate regions where languages from the seven Eurasiatic language families are spoken. English is an Indo-European language; Indo-European language areas are shown in yellow.

Mark my words.  Is this the sound of . . . Sanskrit?
 
This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.
 
Language scholars divide human tongues into families of related languages.
 
Take the Indo-European family.  It includes such seemingly dissimilar languages as English and Hindi.  How's that?  Well, Hindi comes from Sanskrit. And the English word “brother” is very similar to the Sanskrit word “bhratr.”
 
When languages separated by thousands of years have similar words for the same thing, they likely stem from the same ancestral language.

Now meet linguist Mark Pagel.  He analyzed seven language families across Eurasia, including Indo-European. He chose 200 concepts that any human needs to verbalize. Like:  To Eat.  Then he found all known words linked with each concept in each language group.

Did any sound similar?  Twenty-three terms made the cut!  Among them, “man,” “fire,” and “to spit.”  His conclusion?  All Eurasian languages stem from a common ancestral language used 15,000 years ago.
 
When every man used fire and liked to spit a lot.  Or so we think.

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The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, with 89.3 KPCC. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

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