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Ancient languages helped by modern technology

Ancient languages are being reconstructed with the aid of new software.

The software can rebuild protolanguages, the original languages which our languages have developed from. Researchers hope this will allow them to reconstruct many languages, which would otherwise take a human linguist many lifetimes to complete.

The scientists demonstrated their system by looking at a group of Austronesian languages that are currently spoken in southeast Asia, parts of continental Asia and the Pacific.

From a database of 142,000 words, the system was able to recreate the early language from which these modern tongues derived. The scientists believe it would have been spoken about 7,000 years ago.

They then compared the computer’s findings to those of linguists, finding that 85% of the early words that the software presented were within one “character” – or sound – of the words that the language experts had identified.

But while the computerised method was much faster, the scientists said it would not put the experts out of a job. (Source: BBC News)

The scientists hope to keep going back in time to reconstruct languages – perhaps even trying to find the first protolanguage, if it exists.