How Languages Evolve [4:02]

Description

Lots of cultures and religions have stories about how and why there are so many languages – like the Bible’s Tower of Babel story.  But what do linguistic anthropologists and historians say?  The explanation plays out much like biological evolution does.  Slight mutations in language get spread and with physical and culture barriers between groups splits occur.  Eventually these different groups encounter and have to make sense of different environments, furthering the linguistic split.  Looking back, historians can now create family trees for languages that reach back to fewer and fewer proto-languages and discover facts about early societies.

Discussion Questions

  • What languages can you speak or understand?
  • How is linguistic and biological evolution different?  How are they the same?
  • As the number of languages decreases via globalization do you think we’ll ever all speak the same language again, like a pre-Tower of Babel?

Keywords: language, linguistics, anthropology, evolution, Babel, society

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