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.
Connect With Us:
PODCAST & VIDEO: Engineering Around Extreme Events
Extreme events, such as super floods and hurricanes, are becoming more common, so civil engineers are trying to adapt civil infrastructure such as bridges to these unpredictable and sometimes devastating meteorological events. Engineer Ana Barros discusses how engineering can prepare us for extreme weather events, but also how changing climate and population conditions can affect the ability of infrastructure to hold up over time.
To view all multimedia content, click "Latest Multimedia."
Receive notification when new content is posted from the entire website, or choose from the customized feeds available.