Protolanguages: Decoding Words from the Past?

Protolanguage Tree for the Hypothetical Proto-Mayan Language

Protolanguage Tree for the Hypothetical Proto-Mayan Language
Attribution: Régis Lachaume
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Protolanguages are hypothetical ancestors of modern languages. For example, modern Maya, as well as other ancient Mesoamerican scripts (Olmec, Zapotec, Classic Maya to name a few) are believed to have descended from an original language called Proto-Mayan (see chart). Needless to say, decoding protolanguages is a massive undertaking. Here’s more on a new computer system which appears to do the job quickly and with decent accuracy from the University of British Columbia:

University of British Columbia and Berkeley researchers have used a sophisticated new computer system to quickly reconstruct protolanguages – the rudimentary ancient tongues from which modern languages evolved.

The results, which are 85 per cent accurate when compared to the painstaking manual reconstructions performed by linguists, will be published next week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“We’re hopeful our tool will revolutionize historical linguistics much the same way that statistical analysis and computer power revolutionized the study of evolutionary biology,” says UBC Assistant Prof. of Statistics Alexandre Bouchard-Côté, lead author of the study…

(See the rest at University of British Columbia)