Software reconstructs early languages, research shows

13 Feb 2013

Researchers in the US have developed software that can rebuild languages that ceased to exist some 7,000 years ago, the languages that evolved into modern languages.

To test the system of reconstructing those early languages, called protolanguages, the researchers took 637 languages spoken in Asia and the Pacific and recreated their early languages, BBC News Online reports.

Normally, linguists carry out language reconstruction, a process that is slow and time-consuming, according to the report.

“It would take hundreds of lifetimes to pore over all those languages, cross-referencing all the different changes that happened across such an expanse of space and of time. But this is where computers shine,” BBC News Online quotes University of California, Berkeley, associate professor Dan Klein as having said.

After recreating the ancient languages, the researchers then compared the computer’s findings to those of linguists and found 85pc of the early words the software presented were within one “character”, or sound, of the words linguists had identified.

Linguists shouldn’t worry about the faster computerised method putting them out of a job, however. While the software can quickly go through large volumes of data, it lacks the accuracy of linguists’ expertise.

The researchers’ early language reconstruction work has been published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

Foreign languages image via Shutterstock

Tina Costanza was a journalist and sub-editor at Silicon Republic