MadSci Network: Evolution

Re: how did different languages evolve?

Date: Thu Sep 16 00:01:50 1999
Posted By: Daniel Fletcher, Anthropologist, Pre-Med.
Area of science: Evolution
ID: 937269158.Ev

How did different languages evolve ? Good question ! I'm sure there are scholars out there who will disagree with me and think I have forgotten something, but here are what I understand to be the major factors:

Diffusion - When culture/language groups come in contact with each other, they influence and change each other. This is the major factor resulting in Pidgin and Creole languages. Diffusion usually results in a mixture of languages which, after a period of time, becomes it's own language. Modern European languages are the result of the ancient Celtic and German languages mixing with Latin, the language spoken by the Romans who invaded Europe some 1800 years ago.

Isolation - The opposite of diffusion is isolation, which happens when a culture/language group is isolated geographically from other culture/language groups and it stays semi-static over long periods of time. After a certain amount of time, two groups that once spoke the same language no longer speak the same language because one changed due to diffusion and one did not.

Environment - Languages reflect the important aspects of culture. Groups that live in different environments will have languages that reflect that difference. Eskimo have over a dozen words for different kinds of snow.* Often speakers of a language from northern regions will sound more nasal or different in some other way from those in the south. This could be due to the effects of living in cold weather.

The Castillian Effect - I call this factor the Castillian effect because in Spain, they speak Spanish with a lisp. They do this because one of Spain's former kings spoke with a lisp and everyone in the country did so to make him seem correct. This is a rare effect, but it demonstrates how languages can be influenced by singular, sometimes personal factors.

Thank you for asking.

* Stacy J. Prowell adds:
This is a myth, but a lot of people seem to believe it and repeat it. A good treatment of the myth and how it evolved over time can be found in The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax by Geoffrey Pullum (now there's a subject for a book).

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