You say puh-tay-tow, I say puh-tah-tow, but how did our ancestors use language millennia ago? Typically you’d ask a linguist, but manually reconstructing protolanguages — hypothetical early languages from which extant ones evolved — can be a lengthy, arduous process. What if you could get reasonably close in a fraction of the time by using a computer?
Researchers in Canada and California have done exactly that by designing software that can take rules about how language-related sounds change over time to essentially reverse-engineer the process and recreate the rudiments of lost root languages — a sort of linguistic time machine-meets-Rosetta stone.
The idea that language changes over time is obvious enough on contemporary time-scales — just look at dialects. Today some people say “axed” (phonetically) instead of “asked” while others say “howdy” instead of…
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