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Subject: Age of a language
Question: How is the age of a language, without any written evidence, determined?
Reply: Hi, James, Aside from the 'exception' noted by Dr. Pyatt (another would perhaps be so-called 'mixed languages' -- arguably a similar phenomenon to creole/pidgins; note also that both these phenomena could be dated in principle just as far back as the [various] languages which contributed to the mixed or pidgin language), a somewhat separate question is whether human language developed only once (presumably in Africa) or many times independently, and in different places. (A very difficult question adroitly sidestepped by Dr. Pyatt.) The bottom line here is that modern human language is generally accepted by most linguists to have first developed *at least* 50,000 years ago. Most would say more than 100,000 years before the present (B. P.) and some would postulate 500 millennia ago or more. These last, however, base their supposition principally on tools having been found associated with early fossils. This argument loses its force with the discoveries of tool use among some of our primate relatives, and their teaching by mothers to youngsters in at least some cases, and with all current indications pointing to there being *no* (count them, no) cases of other primates having acquired a truly human-like language. {Please note that I am not claiming that other primates are not intelligent. Many of them are more intelligent in some areas than we are. But they cannot speak, period (because they have no pharynx, but that discussion is for another time). That they cannot speak is *probably* why they have never developed the specialized brain areas specific for language (for example, Wernicke's area), though this also would require a long, separate discussion. The bottom line is that, arguably with the exception of some of the pidgin/creole languages we have mentioned, *no* language can be traced to its ultimate origins. In my view, there is some evidence to indicate that human language developed at some time after the development of the pharynx, which fossil evidence indicates must have been after 350,000 BP and before 100,000 BP, from when the first fossils like modern man are dated. Jim James L. Fidelholtz Graduate Program in Language Sciences Instituto de Ciencias Sociales y Humanidades Benem'erita Universidad Aut'onoma de Puebla, M'EXICO
Reply From: James L Fidelholtz      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    Elizabeth J Pyatt     (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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