all-the-worlds-languages-traced-back-to-single-african-mother-tongue?

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all-the-worlds-languages-traced-back-to-single-african-mother-tongue?

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2prosfilaes
aug 4, 2015, 7:00pm

All I had to read was published in Science by an evolutionary biologists to know that linguists would be up in arms. It doesn't seem all that new; http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/02/120215143001.htm says it was refuted in February 2012. Basically, most real linguists put the dawn of language beyond what we can track, given the lack of writing prior to 3200 BC and speed of language change. We can speculate, but there's no way to check our speculations.

3jjwilson61
Redigeret: aug 4, 2015, 7:10pm

The basic idea seems to be that languages lose phonemes over time and don't gain new ones. I'm dubious.

4anglemark
aug 5, 2015, 3:08am

Yeah. Bogus and ignorant.

5Petroglyph
aug 5, 2015, 8:29am

From that post: The phoneme pattern mirrors the pattern of human genetic diversity as humans spread across the globe from sub-Saharan Africa around 70,000 years ago.

Well, Atkinson has made his claims of a serial founder effect before, and linguists have been less than impressed (See Mark Liberman's response here and two anthropologists' response here). In brief, linguists have taken Atkinson to task for assuming that Southern African phoneme inventories are preserved features rather than innovations; for neglecting things like vowel length and syllable structure (and a bunch of other relevant features, showing his unfamiliarity with the field); for an unworkable approach to tonal features; and for generally ignoring things like areal influences altogether.

The current consensus is that the origin of human language a) is so far back in time, b) originated in different (and non-extant) species to us; c) lacks clear evidence (or even reasonably indirect evidence); this means that no-one can know much about it (for the time being). Inferring or even claiming such definite knowledge about the origin of language from their present-day distribution as Atkinson does is beyond all reason. Perhaps even sensationalist and dishonest.

6Crypto-Willobie
aug 5, 2015, 9:16am

Thanks all. That's more or less what I thought but didn't have the counter-info and wasn't able to articulate my unease.

7elenchus
aug 5, 2015, 9:22am

Yes, it's good to have this context but I would in no way been able of hinting at the problems with Atkinson's claims.

The major contribution of these sorts of articles, and by implication with arguments such as this one by Atkinson, is that it articulates a position and then allows us to critique it. I don't get the impression Atkinson meant his claim of an Ur-language as a thought experiment, but it's useful as this, if nothing else, especially to the layperson.

8jjwilson61
aug 5, 2015, 9:37am

Yeah, but the article presents it as if it were established scientific fact. Look at the lead, "Scientists say...".

9elenchus
aug 5, 2015, 9:48am

Well, that can be confusing, but I don't think there's reason to state Atkinson isn't a scientist. Readers need a level of scientific literacy, to weigh the evidence of different positions. Much of what scientists discuss isn't fact, but conjecture or theory.

10Crypto-Willobie
aug 5, 2015, 9:50am

Quite a kerfluffle in the extensive comments on the response from "two anthropologists' response" here http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=3152