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May 10, 2013

Do Words Keep The Same Meaning Over Thousands Of Years?

Do some words stay in circulation for thousands of years? Even many thousands of years? Some of those who study language...

...think so.

What words are - and stay - basic and useful enough to be passed on generation after generation?

Many words keep their meaning for a few years; some for a few decades, but can a word keep its original meaning for millennia?

I usually think of a word like ‘cool’ as on that holds its meaning - at least in the United States – and has kept essentially the same meaning for at least a couple of generations. But can you imagine speaking to someone five hundred or even a thousand years ago and, besides trying to find a common language, but beyond that, trying to find a common vocabulary within that language?

We obviously wouldn’t be talking about technology, or pop culture, or work or almost anything I would guess.
Even most food that we know - or at least buy in a package – would be alien to them. But we might speak of basic foods – or food sources – like fish or deer or sheep or elk (words, by the way, with no distinction between singular and plural).

Or we might speak of basic actions – like giving, or hurting or even spitting.

It’s a strange thing to think about, but if you want to read a recent article with some thoughts on this topic, take a look here - http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/linguists-identify-15000-year-old-ultraconserved-words/2013/05/06/a02e3a14-b427-11e2-9a98-4be1688d7d84_story.html.

And, as with every linguistic – or even historic theory – there are those who disagree or who have competing theories. To see their argument, look here - http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/linguists-identify-15000-year-old-ultraconserved-words/2013/05/06/a02e3a14-b427-11e2-9a98-4be1688d7d84_story.html.

I find language infinitely interesting whether you look at how people use it now or a thousand years ago or how people will use it a hundred years from now.

Eating, spitting and being ‘cool’ just might – or might not – have the meaning we all know today.

Be sure to send us any language usages that puzzle you, and be sure to let us know what it is about language learning that you find confounding, infuriating or endlessly intriguing.

Listen, read and speak. Make your new language your own.

Morf

Also: If you'd like to have Morf visit your school or program this summer, you can contact him at mmorf@mail.com.

Posted by mmorf at May 10, 2013 11:14 PM

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