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"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: With the exceptions noted by my colleagues (and others like Klingon and Esperanto), all languages spoken today are 'modern languages'. There names may or may not date back that far (e.g., as mentioned the change of names as dialects of Latin diverged), but all languages are equally old as far as we can determine.

This comes to be an important sociological question. Threatened and endangered and sleeping languages are often held to be 'millenarian' in contrast to recent upstarts spoken by conquerors. This makes for some interesting discussions and needs to be addressed carefully and fully in good historical linguistics classes. Also, such languages also change over time, split, acquire new names. It has been possible to do some historical work with such languages, when there are several related ones. All of this takes careful, skillful field work, and active cooperation between linguists and native speakers, hopefully by an least one person who is both.

Reply From: M J Hardman      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    James L Fidelholtz     (24-Oct-2012)
  4. Re: Age of a language    Anthea Fraser Gupta     (27-Oct-2012)

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