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Oddball question about linguistics wrt evolution of language

  1. Jun 21, 2012 #1
    Has anyone ever tried to establish an approx rate that languages evolve, in a similar way that genetic change was used to establish a molecular clock of sorts? (disclaimer: i know zero about linguistics) thanks someone.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 22, 2012 #2
    I also know 0 about linguistics and assumed that they all evolve at the same rate as English. PF member Arildno, who is Norwegian, responded that this isn't true. English is about the zippiest language on earth, and other languages stay stable for much longer periods. He said the average Norwegian can pick up a saga written in the middle ages and understand it with no special training. This is not possible with Medieval English.
  4. Jun 22, 2012 #3
    You could take an old-English word and gather statistics about its usage. It wouldn’t say anything about the whole language but might tell you something about the word. As an aside, I prefer the word drift or even evolutionary-drift, as evolution by itself implies a value preference.
  5. Jun 22, 2012 #4

    jim mcnamara

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    Staff: Mentor

    Using English:

    When a word or the usae of the word in a given context becomes a panchreston (the meaning of the word is too broad to convey useful information, or an already existing word has a more precise meaning) it ceases to be used.

    From Graeme Diamond of OED on inclusion of new words:
    Please note the 5 year comment.

    One of the reasons is that slang usage can devolve into loss of meaning in a few years. If you recall "heavy" from the late 1960's, it became overused (loss of meaning). The use of heavy to mean profound is not all common among English speakers now. Profound worked better than heavy, so it was "selected" against.

    This is a kind of selection process. A value preference.
  6. Jun 25, 2012 #5


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    tomishere, Welcome to Physics Forums! :) 

    I think it is appropriate to describe modern languages as “continuously evolving”. And I think the “evolution” of English is today more rapid than ever before in history. This is because of the massive quantity of communications today (much of it in English) made possible by means of the electronic media. In ancient times languages were passed on only by word of mouth. Once we began to print books language remained “standardized” until those books were revised. Today we have the opportunity to bring new words into use rapidly by virtue of the vast reach of mass media communication; examples are radio, television, and the internet. Concurrently, many “old-fashioned” words become unpopular and get lost in the dustbin simply because they are not used by writers and speakers any longer.
  7. Jun 25, 2012 #6


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  8. Jun 28, 2012 #7
    I just found a paper that talks about a "lexical clock" (a la molecular clock) that i came across if anyone still interested in this http://www.cs.rice.edu/~nakhleh/Papers/UCSB09.pdf i cant figure out even after reading this if they established how fast the clock goes, its sort of too academic for me but its pretty intersting study they did
  9. Jun 30, 2012 #8
    All languages "evolve" at varying rates. However English has the advantage of being the most spoken language on earth as well as the language spoken by the worlds superpowers for hundreds of years. As the focal point of social, cultural and scientifical advancement English changes more than any other language on earth.
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