Exploratorium Magazine Online: The Evolution of Language
Where Do Languages Come From?, page 4 of 5


If we apply this method of classification to languages elsewhere in the world, we can, in similar fashion, distinguish about twelve other large and ancient families comparable to Eurasiatic.

Even among these dozen families, there are certain distinctive roots indicating that all twelve of these families have evolved from a single earlier language. Two of the most widespread roots are TIK 'finger, one' and PAL 'two.' Both of these roots are extremely common around the world. Table 2 provides just one example of each from the world's major geographical areas, but many additional examples could be cited.

Table 2. Some Global Roots
of the Words "One" and "Two"
Location   Language   Tik (one)   Pal (two)
  Africa   Proto-Afro-Asiatic
  Europe   Zyrian
pal (half)
  Asia   Proto-Sino-Tibetan
  Oceania   Proto-Karonan
Proto Australian
  North America   Eyak
  South America   Aguaruna

All root words are spelled in the International Phonetic Alphabet.

If the preceding scenario is correct — and it must be admitted that most historical linguists are today quite skeptical — then all modern languages have evolved from a single earlier language. But where was this language spoken? And when? On these questions the linguistic evidence is mute.


Merritt Ruhlen describes how linguistic scholars arrived at the comparative method of language classification, beginning with a discovery by Sir William Jones

An English judge stationed in India at the end of the eighteenth century, Sir William Jones had the revelation that Latin, Greek, and Sanskrit, the ancient language of India, had sprung from a common source. Jones also proposed that the Celtic and Germanic languages, along with Old Persian, probably belonged to the same language family. We now know that this family, called Indo-European, encompasses most of the languages of Europe and extends into the Middle East and southwestern Asia.

JonesClick here for a larger image and more details about Sir William Jones.

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