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Jost Gippert: Our Featured Linguist!

"Buenos dias", "buenas noches" -- this was the first words in a foreign language I heard in my life, as a three-year old boy growing up in developing post-war Western Germany, where the first gastarbeiters had arrived from Spain. Fascinated by the strange sounds, I tried to get to know some more languages, the only opportunity being TV courses of English and French -- there was no foreign language education for pre-teen school children in Germany yet in those days. Read more



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Ask-A-Linguist Message Details

Subject: Age of a language
Question: How is the age of a language, without any written evidence,
determined?

Reply: If by "age of a language" you mean how long the language has existed up till today, I'm afraid the concept is really meaningless. With some marginal special-case exceptions, every natural language descends from earlier forms of language that go back and back till before history began and long before that, so we have no basis for assigning a specific age to any of them. (In some cases earlier forms of a language have different names, for instance one might say that French goes back only to the early middle ages because what it came from before that is what we call Latin, and since that has a different name it must be a "different language". But whether a particular historical stage in the evolution of a language has a separate name or not is really an issue about the culture/politics of the people who were speaking it at that time; French isn't truly a newer language than German just because the language spoken 2000 years ago from which German has evolved had no distinctive name of its own.)

It may be that I have misunderstood your question and you are really asking something a bit different, but I'm afraid in that case I have not grasped what that is.

Geoffrey Sampson

Reply From: Geoffrey Richard Sampson      click here to access email
 
Date: 24-Oct-2012
 
Other Replies:
  1. Re: Age of a language    Elizabeth J Pyatt     (24-Oct-2012)
  2. Re: Age of a language    James L Fidelholtz     (24-Oct-2012)
  3. Re: Age of a language    M J Hardman     (24-Oct-2012)
  4. Re: Age of a language    Anthea Fraser Gupta     (27-Oct-2012)

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