May 13th 2013

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What would you say to a prehistoric hunter?

What if you had the opportunity to communicate with someone from 15,000 years ago? What would you say? What could you say?

You, hear me!

Give this fire to that old man.

Pull the black worm off the bark and give it to the mother.

And no spitting in the ashes!

If you found yourself muttering these sentences in your native tongue while mingling with hunter-gatherers, you just might be understood. Many of today’s modern languages originate from an ancient common ancestrial language in Asia, and researchers now think that a surprising number of words have been preserved over time.

The words in these sentences come from a fascinating list of 23 ancient “cognates,” or words that both sound the same and mean the same thing, that date back to the end of the last Ice Age 15, 000 years ago. Examples of cognates of the word “father” include: padre (Italian), pere (French), pater (Latin) and pitar (Sanskrit).

Researchers at the University of Reading in England worked hard to identify these 23 words that have been “ultra-conserved” over 15,000 years. This new research contrasts the common view that words do not survive longer than 8,000-9,000 years.

Below is a complete list of the 23 words that have remained largely unchanged in several different languages.

thou, I, not, that, we, to give, who, this, what, man/male, ye, old, mother, to hear, hand, fire, to pull, black, to flow, bark, ashes, to spit, worm

Which words would you expect to see on the list?

Read more about this study here:  http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/linguists-identify-15000-year-old-ultraconserved-words/2013/05/06/a02e3a14-b427-11e2-9a98-4be1688d7d84_story.html

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