Ye auld English

March 1, 2009 at 6:03 pm 4 comments

Reading University has ‘discovered’ the oldest English words still in use today. Words like ‘I’, ‘we’, ‘who’ and the first three numbers have apparently been commonly used for at least 10K years, hence their sustainability. The less a word is used, the more likely it is to fade away. Among those predicted to disappear, the boffins at the university say, are words such as ‘squeeze’, ‘guts’, ‘stick’, ‘throw’ and ‘dirty’.

How can the word ‘dirty’ disappear? It’s used in porn and fetish scenes enough. What would be the opposite of clean then?

The Reading boffins have been studying a family of Indo-European languages, using  a new IBM supercomputer.

Other simple rules have been uncovered – numerals evolve the slowest, then nouns, then verbs, then adjectives. Conjunctions and prepositions such as ‘and’, ‘or’, ‘but’ , ‘on’, ‘over’ and ‘against’ evolve the fastest, some as much as 100 times faster than numerals. ‘Throw’ which is expected to evolve quickly, has a half-life of 900 years, there are 42 unrelated sounds for it across all the languages. In 10,000 years time, it will likely have been replaced in 10 of them – possibly including English, unless of course we all do our part to keep the word in circulation.

“50% of the words we use today would be unrecognisable to our ancestors living 2,500 years ago. If a time-traveller came to us, and told us he wanted to go back to that period, we could arm him with the appropriate phrase book, and hopefully keep him out of trouble” explained Mark Pagel, Professor of Evolutionary Biology at the University of Reading.

So all you writers attempting historicals, please note that people then did not speak the way we do now. At the rate the English language is evolving I expect we’ll be losing more than a few words.

In 2003, researchers at Auckland University believe they had evidence that the English Language originated in Turkey. Going further back than the Germanic, Frisian and Scandinavian roots of the language, … It was thought the language was spread either by rampaging Kurgan horsemen who swept down into Europe and the Near East from the steppes of Russia 6000 years ago, or by farmers from Anatolia (modern Turkey) who had tilled their way westwards several millenniums earlier.

Gosh, this is more exciting than studying grammar.



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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Anni  |  March 2, 2009 at 12:55 pm

    I predict that the word “boffin” will certainly disappear before “dirty”…and long before “squeeze”.

    Reply
    • 2. evecho  |  March 2, 2009 at 12:59 pm

      Noo, not the boffins. Poor maligned, unprotected species they are.

      Reply
  • 3. Anni  |  March 5, 2009 at 2:46 pm

    I intend to collect about a dozen boffin eggs and begin a sanctuary. A few live specimens would be helpful if you happen to catch any.

    Reply
    • 4. evecho  |  March 5, 2009 at 3:18 pm

      Shouldn’t be too hard. You got any shiny lab tools?

      Reply

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Evecho’s newsy bits

News, updates and links from the lesbian and publishing ‘verse that interest me, my current projects, keeping up with authors and sharing musings on middle-class life, gourmet adventures and comparisons between East/West perspectives. My opinions will likely be linearly logical and gayly bent, as they tend to be.