How languages evolve – Alex Gendler

In the biblical story
of the Tower of Babel, all of humanity once spoke
a single language until they suddenly split
into many groups unable to understand each other. We don’t really know if
such an original language ever existed, but we do know that the thousands
of languages existing today can be traced back
to a much smaller number. So how did we end up with so many? In the early days of human migration, the world was much less populated. Groups of people that shared
a single language and culture often split into smaller tribes, going separate ways in search
of fresh game and fertile land. As they migrated and
settled in new places, they became isolated from one another and developed in different ways. Centuries of living
in different conditions, eating different food and encountering different neighbors turned similar dialects with
varied pronunciation and vocabulary into radically different languages, continuing to divide as populations
grew and spread out further. Like genealogists, modern linguists
try to map this process by tracing multiple languages
back as far as they can to their common ancestor,
or protolanguage. A group of all languages related
in this way is called a language family, which can contain
many branches and sub-families. So how do we determine whether
languages are related in the first place? Similar sounding words don’t tell us much. They could be false cognates
or just directly borrowed terms rather than derived from a common root. Grammar and syntax are
a more reliable guide, as well as basic vocabulary, such as pronouns,
numbers or kinship terms, that’s less likely to be borrowed. By systematically comparing these features and looking for regular
patterns of sound changes and correspondences between languages, linguists can determine relationships, trace specific steps in their evolution and even reconstruct earlier languages
with no written records. Linguistics can even reveal
other important historical clues, such as determining the geographic origins
and lifestyles of ancient peoples based on which of their words were native, and which were borrowed. There are two main problems linguists face when constructing
these language family trees. One is that there is
no clear way of deciding where the branches
at the bottom should end, that is, which dialects should be considered
separate languages or vice versa. Chinese is classified as a single language, but its dialects vary to the point
of being mutually unintelligible, while speakers of Spanish and Portuguese can often understand each other. Languages actually spoken by living people do not exist in neatly divided categories, but tend to transition gradually, crossing borders and classifications. Often the difference between
languages and dialects is a matter of changing political
and national considerations, rather than any linguistic features. This is why the answer to,
“How many languages are there?” can be anywhere between 3,000 and 8,000, depending on who’s counting. The other problem is that
the farther we move back in time towards the top of the tree, the less evidence we have
about the languages there. The current division
of major language families represents the limit at which
relationships can be established with reasonable certainty, meaning that languages
of different families are presumed not to be related
on any level. But this may change. While many proposals
for higher level relationships — or super families — are speculative, some have been widely accepted and others are being considered, especially for native languages
with small speaker populations that have not been extensively studied. We may never be able to determine
how language came about, or whether all human languages
did in fact have a common ancestor scattered through the babel of migration. But the next time you hear
a foreign language, pay attention. It may not be as foreign as you think.

100 Replies to “How languages evolve – Alex Gendler

  1. I was searching for an answer about a word origination when I found this video, though it doesn't answer me, it is very interesting to watch 🙂
    My curiosity is I notice the word "Crucial" has an archaic "Cruciform" in Merriam-Webster dictionary. Wondering why, was cruciform used as a symbolic meaning of "decisive, critical" in ancient language?

  2. There are some mistakes in Thai CC:
    1. “Linguists” (1:50 and 2:10) is “นักภาษาศาสตร์”, not “นักสัทศาสตร์”. A big mistake.
    2. The word “reconstruct” (1:53) should be translated as “สืบสร้าง”, not just “สร้าง”. This could mislead that linguists “create” the ancient languages.


  4. I feel safe in just assuming the Babel account is true and we’ll never linguistically be able to connect language families back to an original tongue, unless one of the established families is the original.

  5. I hear foreign languages all the time since my school is international having students from dozens of countries, speaking more than 20 different languages and dialects… Our common language is English, since the school is in New York, and I've always wondered how languages formed and came to be so different from one and other…

  6. When we define Chinese as a single language, it's because the variants all share the same grammar and writing, the differences are just in vocabulary and accents. Therefore although some spoken languages are not quite mutually intelligible, it's easy for one to learn another variant very easily and quickly.

  7. Tamil is the oldest language….y do u guyz always ignore this one ,take a look n make a video on it!!

  8. Goed kort overzicht.
    Voor biologische preadaptaties van spraak en taal,
    google "Speech originS 2017 Verhaegen".

  9. I care why we are the ppl that doesen’t have our country but we have our own language its called ‘Roma’ but allot of ppl are calling us ‘Ciiganee’ and we are like all different they are allot of ppl of us that are like Turkish, arabic but they are also ppl like serbo croatian as well!

  10. Funny you mention the similarity between spanish and portuguese
    Sometimes i click in a video that reads in spanish but when it starts its portuguese :c

  11. Philippine language is similar to Spanish language because we kept some of its words when we were still colonialized by the Spaniards and meh….

  12. The evolution of languages reminds me a bit of the evolution in biology. Kinda funny how these fundamentally different things are driven by the same factors (physical movements, isolation etc) to come to a similar result.

  13. Biological preadaptations to human speech & language,
    please google: "Speech originS 2017 Verhaegen"

  14. The Original Language is TAMIL……..Tamil is the only language that is Oldest and Longest surviving and flourishing classical language and which Still continuing its classical Past……..

  15. I'm kind of put off by a purchasers who cannot tell the difference between rite and write. And those who don't know the difference between right and wrong.

  16. everything is by the will of allah (god), subhanallah this kind of videos make me believe more and more

  17. Does anyone know of any academia surrounding African languages? I'd love to know more. Thank you, in advance! 🙂

  18. It's the tower of Babel, not 'babble'! And since you've referred to the tower of Babel, why do you not also give credence to the most obvious answer to how languages started.
    Most of the current languages are so different and so complex, that they could not have 'evolved' at all. Children do not normally make up a new language that is completely different from either of their parents, so there is no reason to believe that the number of languages would naturally increase, but instead it is only decreasing! There were probably 6000-7000 families on the planet at the time of the Tower of Babel, ie. about the same number of languages that exist today.

  19. I wish the animus was real. or that we could somehow extract old images and sounds from the very fabric of reality.

  20. A spanish speaker and a portuguese speaker is much more similar to a malaysian and indonesian speaker. Indonesians can understand malaysian but a malaysian person will not be able to understand an indonesian.

  21. I agree with the last sentence.It's just like Chinese and Korean.Btw Chinese isn't a single language its just a short branch with only Korean below.

  22. How did language start with a character then a word, then Two words etc., You can't communicate with two words… It will take a miracle to come up with one working set of language. Therefore language did not evolved there were several working sets all at once for different cultures.

  23. Paleo-Hebrew was the original language given to man by God Himself! Read Genesis 11:1)! The Paleo-Hebrew letter, "tau", was shaped like the "cross" of Christ for a reason! Read (Genesis 1: 14,…the stars shall be for signs…")
    Hence, the Northern Cross is near the non moving North Star! North, is a Holy direction in scripture (Pslams 76: 1)!
    For more info, google, the Northern Cross, by Aquilla Fleetwood, youtube!
    Then google, Night Signs, by Aquilla Fleetwood, youtube!

  24. This still doesn't explain why languages do change at the basic level, which cannot be put down purely to environment and borrowing. Why do words go in and out of fashion while others remain constant?

  25. In the end this clip is about how scientists research language evolution. I think this tells better how the evolve even today:

  26. Can someone explain how languages evolve after groups of early humans split up and become isolated? In the video it just said they split up and evolve, but what is it actually that causes people to pronounce a certain thing differently?

  27. That idiotic story … the biblical tower of bable .. is as idiotic as; has the same flavor of Paul Bunion stories like the formation of the grand canyon! Just pepoles imaginarion! And attempts to exsplain thier exsistance.

  28. The Chinese language family is NOT composed of 'dialects'. These are separate, mutually unintelligible LANGUAGES. It is very frustrating that this nice video repeats this old mistake.

  29. Her voice has so much vocal fry. Is she consciously doing this? Every sentence is consistently fried at the end. Weird.

  30. The word is 'genealogists' gene – a – logists, gene – A' – logists….at least according to Cambridge and Oxford dictionaries

  31. Speaking of isolation… I wonder how India has evolved so many languages and even more dialects from each and they haven't been completely isolated from each other since ancient times….

  32. If the tower of babel story really happened, there would be an english person next to a japanese person next to possibly an ancient egytian person.

  33. All these language differences and we can agree that there's a sweet/sour yellowish fruit with dragonscale-like skin called "ananas"

  34. How come so many languages use marks like periods, question mark, parenthesis, math symbols etc when the languages can be so different and physically far from each other ex americe and china

  35. Tower of Babel has the most evidence going for it.

  36. I get why we have different languages but I wish there was one language that everybody understood so I could talk to everyone who doesn't speak English.

  37. Is it just me or did this video on "How languages evolve" fail to explain how languages evolve? Literally from 0:35 to 1:05 – thirty whole seconds – is all that is given. Some topics like evolving transitions between a voiced fricative (like the 'th' in "then") and unvoiced fricative (like the 'th' in "thin") seem pretty easy to convey while evolution of grammar is a bit more tricky. This video washes over the whole thing with "they were isolated so the language just changed." Really? Just like that? Pronunciation doesn't seem like a huge leap, but how does one end up with drastic changes to things like grammar which results in the 15 cases and 51 declensions for nouns in Finnish? We probably don't know, but surely we have better theories than "they were isolated so it just happened."

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