Evolutionary Tools Help Unlock Origins of Ancient Languages

The key to understanding how languages evolved may lie in their structure, not their vocabularies.

Because vocabularies change so quickly, using them to trace how languages change over time can only reach back about 8,000 to 10,000 years.

To study tongues from the Pleistocene, the period between 1.8 million and 10,000 years ago, Michael Dunn and his colleagues at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics developed a computer program that analyzes language based on how words relate to one another.

This new analytical tool suggests that languages are related in ways that are consistent with geographical relationships between them.