There is no generally accepted term for this concept. Most treatments of the subject do not include a name for the language under consideration (e.g. Bengtson and Ruhlen
). The terms Proto-World
are in occasional use. Merritt Ruhlen
has been using the term Proto-Sapiens
History of the idea
The first serious scientific attempt to establish the reality of monogenesis was that of Alfredo Trombetti
, in his book L'unità d'origine del linguaggio
, published in 1905.:263
Trombetti estimated that the common ancestor of existing languages had been spoken between 100,000 and 200,000 years ago.:315
Monogenesis was dismissed by many linguists in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when the doctrine of the polygenesis
of the human races and their languages
was widely popular.:190
In the second half of the 20th century, Joseph Greenberg
produced a series of large-scale classifications of the world's languages. These were and are controversial but widely discussed. Although Greenberg did not produce an explicit argument for monogenesis, all of his classification work was geared toward this end. As he stated::337
"The ultimate goal is a comprehensive classification of what is very likely a single language family."
Date and location
The first concrete attempt to estimate the date of the hypothetical ancestor language was that of Alfredo Trombetti
who concluded it was spoken between 100,000 and 200,000 years ago, or close to the first emergence of Homo sapiens
It is uncertain or disputed whether the earliest members of Homo sapiens
had fully developed language. Some scholars link the emergence of language proper (out of a proto-linguistic
stage that may have lasted considerably longer) to the development of behavioral modernity
toward the end of the Middle Paleolithic
or at the beginning of the Upper Paleolithic
, roughly 50,000 years ago. Thus, in the opinion of Richard Klein
, the ability to produce complex speech only developed some 50,000 years ago (with the appearance of modern humans or Cro-Magnons
). Johanna Nichols
argued that vocal languages must have begun diversifying in our species at least 100,000 years ago.
In Perreault and Mathew (2012),
an estimate on the time of the first emergence of human language was based on phonemic diversity. This is based on the assumption that phonemic diversity evolves much more slowly than grammar or vocabulary, slowly increasing over time (but reduced among small founding populations). The largest phoneme inventories are found among African languages
, while the smallest inventories are found in South America and Oceania, some of the last regions of the globe to be colonized. The authors used data from the colonization of Southeast Asia to estimate the rate of increase in phonemic diversity. Applying this rate to African languages, Perreault and Mathew (2012) arrived at an estimated age of 150,000 to 350,000 years, compatible with the emergence and early dispersal of H. sapiens
. The validity of this approach has been criticized as flawed.
Speculation as to "characteristics" of Proto-World is limited to linguistic typology
, i.e. the identification of universal features shared by all human languages, such as grammar
(in the sense of "fixed or preferred sequences of linguistic elements"), and recursion
[or phrases] embedded in other clauses [or phrases]"), but beyond this nothing can be known of it (Campbell and Poser 2008:391).
According to Murray Gell-Mann
and Ruhlen (2011),
the ancestral language would have had a basic order of Subject (S) - Object (O) - Verb (V) or SOV
Ruhlen tentatively traces a number of words back to the ancestral language, based on the occurrence of similar sound-and-meaning forms in languages across the globe. Bengtson and Ruhlen identify 27 "global etymologies".
The following table lists a selection of these forms:
Based on these correspondences, Ruhlen:105
lists these roots for the ancestor language:
- ku = 'who'
- ma = 'what'
- pal = 'two'
- akwa = 'water'
- tik = 'finger'
- kanV = 'arm'
- boko = 'arm'
- buŋku = 'knee'
- sum = 'hair'
- putV = 'vulva'
- čuna = 'nose, smell'
In a 2011 paper, Murray Gell-Mann
and Merritt Ruhlen
argued that the ancestral language had subject–object–verb (SOV
) word order.
The reason for thinking so is that in the world's natural language families, it is typical for the original language to have an SOV word order, and languages that evolve from it sometimes deviate. Their proposal develops an earlier one made by Talmy Givón
Languages with SOV word order have a strong tendency to have other word orders in common, such as:
- Adjectives precede the nouns they modify.
- Dependent genitives precede the nouns they modify.
- "Prepositions" are really "postpositions", following the nouns they refer to.
For example, instead of saying The man goes to the wide river, as in English, Ruhlen's Proto-Human speakers would have said Man wide river to goes. However, half of all current languages have SOV order, and historically languages cycle between word orders, so finding evidence of this order in the reconstructions of many families may reflect no more than this general tendency, rather than reflecting a common ancestral form.
Many linguists reject the methods used to determine these forms. Several areas of criticism are raised with the methods Ruhlen and Gell-Mann employ. The essential basis of these criticisms is that the words being compared do not show common ancestry; the reasons for this vary. One is onomatopoeia
: for example, the suggested root for 'smell' listed above, *čuna
, may simply be a result of many languages employing an onomatopoeic word that sounds like sniffing, snuffling, or smelling. Another is the taboo
quality of certain words. Lyle Campbell
points out that many established proto-languages do not contain an equivalent word for *putV
'vulva' because of how often such taboo words are replaced in the lexicon
, and notes that it "strains credibility to imagine" that a proto-World form of such a word would survive in many languages.
Using the criteria that Bengtson and Ruhlen employ to find cognates to their proposed roots, Lyle Campbell finds seven possible matches to their root for woman *kuna in Spanish, including cónyuge 'wife, spouse', chica 'girl', and cana 'old woman (adjective)'. He then goes on to show how what Bengtson and Ruhlen would identify as reflexes of *kuna cannot possibly be related to a proto-World word for woman. Cónyuge, for example, comes from the Latin root meaning 'to join', so its origin had nothing to do with the word 'woman'; chica is a feminine adjective coming from a Latin noun meaning 'worthless object'; cana comes from the Latin word for 'white', and again shows a history unrelated to the word 'woman' (Campbell and Poser 2008:370–372). Campbell's assertion is that these types of problems are endemic to the methods used by Ruhlen and others.
There are some linguists who question the very possibility of tracing language elements so far back into the past. Campbell notes that given the time elapsed since the origin of human language, every word from that time would have been replaced or changed beyond recognition in all languages today. Campbell harshly criticizes efforts to reconstruct a Proto-human language, saying "the search for global etymologies is at best a hopeless waste of time, at worst an embarrassment to linguistics as a discipline, unfortunately confusing and misleading to those who might look to linguistics for understanding in this area." (Campbell and Poser 2008:393)
- ^ a b Meritt Ruhlen; John Bengtson (1994). "Global etymologies". On the Origin of Languages: Studies in Linguistic Taxonomy(PDF). pp. 277–336. Retrieved 27 June 2020.
- ^ Used by the Harold Fleming (2003) and John Bengtson (2007).
- ^ a b Ruhlen, Meritt (1994). The Origin of Language: Tracing the Evolution of the Mother Tongue. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
- ^ Trombetti, Alfredo (1905). L'unità d'origine del linguaggio (in Italian). Bologna: Luigi Beltrami.
- ^ a b Trombetti, Alfredo (1922–1923). Elementi di glottologia (in Italian). Bologna: Zanichelli.
- ^ de Saussure, Ferdinand (1986) . Cours de linguistique générale [Course in General Linguistics] (in French). Translated by Harris, Roy. Chicago: Open Court.
- ^ Greenberg, Joseph H. (1987). Language in the Americas. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
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- ^ Perreault, C.; Mathew, S. (2012). "Dating the origin of language using phonemic diversity". PLOS ONE. 7 (4): e35289. Bibcode:2012PLoSO...735289P. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0035289. PMC 3338724. PMID 22558135.
- ^ Hunley, Keith; Bowern, Claire; Healy, Meghan (2 January 2012). "Rejection of a serial founder effects model of genetic and linguistic coevolution". Proceedings of the Royal Society B. 279 (1736): 2281–2288. doi:10.1098/rspb.2011.2296. PMC 3321699. PMID 22298843.
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- ^ CARTA: The Origin of Us -- Christopher Ehret: Relationships of Ancient African Languages. August 1, 2013.
- ^ "Linguists seek a time when we spoke as one". Christian Science Monitor. 19 July 2007. Retrieved 18 May 2018.
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- ^ a b c Ruhlen, Meritt (1994). The Origin of Language: Tracing the Evolution of the Mother Tongue. New York: John Wiley and Sons. ISBN 9780471159636. Retrieved 27 June 2020.
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Last edited on 22 April 2021, at 10:37
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