SCIENCE IN THE NEWS DAILY
from Science News
Talk is cheap, but scientific value lurks in all that gab. Words cascading out of countless flapping gums contain secrets about the evolution of language that a new breed of researchers plan to expose with statistical tools borrowed from genetics.
For more than a century, traditional linguists have spent much of their time doing fieldwork--listening to native speakers to pick up on words with similar sounds, such as mother in English and madre in Spanish, and comparing how various tongues arrange subjects, verbs, objects and other grammatical elements into sentences. Such information has allowed investigators to group related languages into families and reconstruct ancestral forms of talk. But linguists generally agree that their methods can revive languages from no more than 10,000 years ago. Borrowing of words and grammar by speakers of neighboring languages, the researchers say, erases evolutionary signals from before that time.
Now a small contingent of researchers, many of them evolutionary biologists who typically have nothing to do with linguistics, are looking at language from in front of their computers, using mathematical techniques imported from the study of DNA to wring scenarios of language evolution out of huge amounts of comparative speech data.
Subscribe to Our Content!
Visit our RSS Feeds page to choose among 13 customized feeds, or create a free My AmSci account to request an email notice whenever a specified author, department or discipline appears online.
A free daily summary of the latest news in scientific research. Each story is summarized concisely and linked directly to the original source for further reading.
An early peek at each new issue, with descriptions of feature articles, columns,
and more. Every other issue contains links to everything in the latest issue's table of contents.
News of book reviews published in
and around the web, as well as other noteworthy happenings in the world of science books.
To sign up for automatic emails of the
Update and Scientists' Nightstand issues, create an
online profile, then sign up in the
My AmSci area.
Science in the Media
Magazines and Web Sites:
The Science-Media Intersection: