New study identifies 23 words that have existed since language
Among scholars and linguists, there is an endless debate as to what the first human language was. Part of the problem is that to understand languages of the past there needs to be written examples of that language to confirm to modern scholars that they actually existed, and only a few written languages are more than 2,000 years old. The oldest languages known are Tamil, Greek, Chinese, Latin, Sanskrit, Hebrew, and a few others.
Identifying a mother tongue may not be something that is actually quantifiable; it also raises the question of what is a language. Can a grunt be an actual word if it is the same grunt meant to signify a specific idea, action, or object? It’s a complicated subject, but there are some ways to look deeper.
A recent study has identified 23 words that seem to have come from a single mother tongue, possibly even the first human language. The 23 words are:
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 Split, Worm.
These words are all based on Eurasiatic language families. Obviously, the words are going to be more familiar to English and Germanic speakers, but their origins can be traced back thousands of years – 15,000 years or more.
The researchers also attempted to identify the use of these words rather than just their phonetic sounds. So when they found the word “I” stemming back thousands of years, it specifically is used in the sense of identifying oneself, as opposed to other uses of the same phonetic sound like “eye.” Despite hundreds, even thousands of languages that have been created in the following years, these words “have remained associated with their particular meanings independently in separate branches of this superfamily since the end of the last ice age.”
So if you happen upon a perfectly preserved primitive from 15,000 years ago, brush up on these 23 words. It might lead to a series of wacky adventures! Or at least they won’t immediate club you in the head. Either way, it’s a result and an interesting look at the commonality of language.