Uncommon Descent Serving The Intelligent Design Community

Did the Sino-Tibetan language family originate over 7000 years ago?


From ScienceDaily:

The Sino-Tibetan language family consists of more than 400 languages spoken by around 1.4 billion speakers worldwide, including major world languages like Chinese, Tibetan and Burmese. However, despite the importance of these languages for understanding the prehistory of East Asia, their relationships and origins remain controversial. A study by an international team provides new evidence for the origin of the language family, pointing to Sino-Tibetan originating with north Chinese millet farmers around 7,200 years ago

But how do they know?

In order to shed light on the complex history of these languages, the scholars assembled a lexical database containing core vocabulary from 50 Sino-Tibetan languages. This database, published here for the first time, includes ancient languages spoken 1000 and more years ago, such as Old Chinese, Old Burmese, and Old Tibetan, as well as modern languages documented by field work.

“In order to compare these languages in a transparent way, we developed a specific annotation framework that allows us not only to mark which words we identify as sharing a common origin, but also which sounds in the words we think are related,” says Johann-Mattis List of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, who led the study. “A particular problem in identifying the truly related words were the numerous cases where languages borrowed words from each other,” mentions Jacques. “Luckily, we know the history of particular languages rather well and could rely on techniques that we developed before to reveal the true history concealed by these borrowings.”

Using powerful computational phylogenetic methods, the team inferred the most probable relationships between these languages and then estimated when these languages might have originated in the past. “We find clear evidence for seven major subgroups with a complex pattern of overlapping signals beyond that level,” says Simon J. Greenhill of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. “Our estimates suggest that the ancestral language has arisen around 7,200 years ago.” Paper. (open access) – Laurent Sagart, Guillaume Jacques, Yunfan Lai, Robin J. Ryder, Valentin Thouzeau, Simon J. Greenhill and Johann-Mattis List. Dated language phylogenies shed light on the ancestry of Sino-Tibetan. PNAS, 2019 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1817972116 More.

What we don’t know is how language itself arises. Not at all. Every human group already speaks a language.

See also: At Inference Review: Language is much more than a system of signals

Michael Egnor: The Real Reason Why Only Human Beings Speak

Why speech is unique to humans

Endangered Languages: Efforts To Save Them Sometimes Involve Questionable Claims


Rob Sheldon: Did humans see the color blue before modern times?

Follow UD News at Twitter!

Prior to the "conquest" of Europe by the Aryans (aka "Indo-Europeans"), there were VERY ancient native people living there. We know practically nothing about them, except odd bits of their culture (Stonehenge and Carnac and MANY other sites are pre-Celtic/Aryan). Ethnologists call them "Atlanteans" ("people who dwelt along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean") for convenience. The Atlantean language was so COMPLETELY replaced by Celtic that we no practically nothing about it. Atlantean would most likely be similar to Neanderthal, so most perhaps 50,000 years old. So, yes, EVERY group of humans we know of already had a spoken language when they were encountered foreigners civilized enough to remark on the difference in languages. But there is another VERY interesting event in the Story of Linguistics. During the Spanish colonization of South America, the settlers used a large number of newly imported slaves from Africa. Since the Africans who SOLD the slaves were picky about whom they enslaved, the Spanish noted that their slaves spoke several incompatible language when purchased. Someplace along the line (1600???), there was a rebellion on the thinly colonized south shore of the Caribbean. The slaves escaped into the South American swamps and jungles, which turned out to be darn close to African swamps and jungles. The Spanish spent some years trying to suppress the rebellion and recapture the slave, but they failed. Eventually, the Spanish negotiated a peace treaty (the escaped Africans were pretty good at raiding Spanish towns), and trade opened. One of the things the Spanish noticed was that in a generation of so the African-Americans had INVENTED a whole new language, since there were several different African languages in use. And FIRST the adults standardized words for Things (nouns), then came Actions (verbs), and GENERATIONS later, all of the other stuff (adverbs, adjectives, articles, pronouns...). The thing the Spanish found most remarkable was the Grammar and Syntax were standardized by the CHILDREN. That is, human children NATURALLY know that "Thog Jaguar" is NOT a complete sentence. And so they agree amongst themselves (big sister helping kid brother) how to clarify that what was intended was "Thog SCARED OF Jaguar". After only a few generations, the kids had finished defining a COMPLETE new language, which has remained stable for hundreds of years. For a more complete discussion, see the definitive documentary "Caveman", featuring Ringo Starr, who didn't need makeup for the part. Around a campfire, a traveler invited to dinner attempts to teach the locals English, and fails. So the film goes back to calling "food" "ool" or something, and the audience quickly understands from the context what the Cavemanian dialogue means. vmahuna
5k to 10k YA current consensus YA calibrates to shortly after the 1996 anno mundi approx. end of the ice ages so w/in a 100 years of the dispersion from Bavel, so this actually helps corroborate scriptural testimony narrative and timeline on 'the origins of the speeches' see work of same name by Mozeson whom we reference in the Moshe Emes series for understanding science. Pearlman

Leave a Reply