These 23 Words Have Survived 15K Years

Linguists discover 'ultraconserved words'

By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff

Posted May 7, 2013 7:55 AM CDT

(Newser) – Plants and animals aren't the only things that go extinct: Most words are replaced every few thousand years, with a maximum survival of roughly 9,000 years, say linguists. But in a new study published yesterday, four British researchers say they have found 23 words that have persisted for a staggering 15,000 years. These "ultraconserved words" include some that you might expect (you, me, mother, man), others you might not (spit, worm, bark), and at least one somewhat heartwarming entry (give). Over the centuries, the words have retained the same meaning and almost the same sound, the Washington Post reports.

The team claims that's because they all come from an ancient "mother tongue" that was used toward the end of the last ice age, the Guardian reports. They assert that the ancient language eventually formed seven language families, which in turn formed the 700 modern languages used by more than half of the planet today. To find the ultraconserved words, linguists looked for cognates—words that have similar meanings and sounds in different languages, like "father" (padre, pere, pater, pitar)—shared by all seven of the aforementioned language families. They then translated the cognates into what they believed the cognates' ancestral words (known as proto-words) would be, then compared those. They ultimately found 23 that were shared by at least four of the language families, including one (thou) that was shared by all seven. See all the words here.

  (Shutterstock)
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