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Subject: Age of a language
Question: How is the age of a language, without any written evidence, determined?
Reply: This is a tricky question for reasons noted in the FAQ page at http://linguistlist.org/ask-ling/oldest.cfm Essentially all languages are about the same age. That is, most linguists assume that a typical language has had a continuous history going back tens of millennia whether it was written down or not. For instance, a language like Zuni was not written down until contact with Europeans, but it is safe to assume that some form of it was brought to North America by those who settled in that part of the Southwest. Before it came to North America, some form of it was spoken by people in Eurasia. The one big exception are pidgins which may become creoles. These are relatively young languages. The other question linguists examine is when two languages split. They use evidence from historical linguistics, but dating methodology is still a bit controversial. It should be noted that two related languages like Spanish and Portuguese typically begin life as dialects of one language. That further complicates the dating question.
Reply From: Elizabeth J Pyatt      click here to access email
 
Date: 24-Oct-2012
 
Other Replies:
  1. Re: Age of a language    Geoffrey Richard Sampson     (24-Oct-2012)
  2. Re: Age of a language    James L Fidelholtz     (24-Oct-2012)
  3. Re: Age of a language    Anthea Fraser Gupta     (27-Oct-2012)
  4. Re: Age of a language    M J Hardman     (24-Oct-2012)

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