t Click on Adam or the apple tree, or on Eve’s sweet speech to see what is going to go on between them.


B &W woodcut original
by Jost Amman (1587).
Colors and Orkhun script added
by Doğan Türker.

& Another Language Tree?..



A Biological Dig for the Roots of Language

By Nicholas Wade

Once upon a time, there were very few human languages and perhaps only one, and if so, all of the 6,000 or so languages spoken round the world today must be descended from it.

If that family tree of human language could be reconstructed and its branching points dated, a wonderful new window would be opened onto the human past.

Yet in the view of many historical linguists, the chances of drawing up such a tree are virtually nil and those who suppose otherwise are chasing a tiresome delusion.

Languages change so fast, the linguists point out, that their genealogies can be traced back only a few thousand years at best before the signal dissolves completely into noise: witness how hard Chaucer is to read just 600 years later.

But the linguists’ problem has recently attracted a new group of researchers who are more hopeful of success. They are biologists who have developed sophisticated mathematical tools for drawing up family trees of genes and species. Because the same problems crop up in both gene trees and language trees, the biologists are confident that their tools will work with languages, too.

The New York Times, March 16, 2004.

Reconstructing Languages

Linguistic reconstruction is the recovery of the stages of a language that existed prior to those found in written documents. Using a number of languages that are genetically related, linguists try to reconstruct at least certain aspects of the languages’ common ancestor, called the protolanguage.

Linguists theorize that those features that are the same among the protolanguage’s descendant languages, or those features that differ but can be traced to a common origin, can be considered features of the ancestor language. Nineteenth-century linguistic science made significant progress in reconstructing the Proto-Indo-European language.

While many details of this reconstruction remain controversial, in general linguists have gained a good conception of Proto-Indo-European’s phonology, morphology, and vocabulary. However, due to the range of syntactic variation among Proto-Indo-European’s descendant languages, linguists have found syntactic reconstruction more problematic.

© 1993-2003 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

New Models for Culture 

Kim H. Veltman’s studies of perspective and culture during the 1970s and 1980s led gradually to a conviction that standard histories of art and culture (e.g. Janson, Summers) are much too Eurocentric. How can Europe, which is less than 5% of the world population create new models of culture which re-assess Europe’s contributions and at the same time duly give credit to other cultures throughout the world? A central premise is that Europe’s uniqueness is to be found less in its exclusive symbols and more in its inclusive approaches to knowledge and culture.

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