As people evolved so did languages, and as a new study showed, the evolution of languages is very much the same in the way that living organisms evolved. This is the finding the researchers from Australia found, with various evidences showing that the changes in a language also occurred more often when many more people spoke the language.
Conduct of research
The research team that did the study was from the Australian National University or ANU. They spent considerable time studying over 20 languages spoken in the island of Polynesia as they sought to learn the changes brought about by various populations into languages. The results were released Tuesday, showing that new words and phrases grew exponentially based on the number of speakers.
Dr. Simon Greenhill who is from the Center of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language of the Australian National University said that concluding evidences showed that languages with more speakers are also more open to innovation, thus the development of new words became quicker. The findings are new since many past research in the evolution of language failed to confirm the effect that population size had in the rate of growth and changes of a language.
They believe that over 335 million people around the world are speakers of English and they hope to expand their study to more languages in order to find out how fast the changes in some of the languages extended over time.
As of now, aside from the empirical evidences, it could be noted that additional entries in dictionaries happen every year, whereas there are words that are dropped from the regular lexicon. From the recent study, the researchers were able to conclude that the rate of speed of a language’s evolution is almost the same as biological evolution, based on population size.
Choice of Polynesian languages
They chose the Polynesian languages in their initial study because these are relatively new languages as the islands were only settled by humans in recent history. About 1,000 islands comprise the Polynesian Islands, and the languages spoken in the inhabited islands quickly diversified. Since the languages spoken in the islands have been the objects of various studies, the researchers were able to make a comparative study of the relationship of population size and the growth of languages through the availability and differences in the islands’ vocabularies.
The researchers compared language pairs that shared a common origin and labeled them as sister languages. When the population of two islands got separated, they found out that the language with the higher number of speakers were able to develop new vocabulary faster than those with a low number of speakers. They also found out that the language with fewer speakers likewise tended to lose much of its vocabulary.
Comparing their findings to biological evolution, the scientists explained that smaller population rapidly lose their genetic diversity whereas areas with larger populations were able to develop several mutations that led to a more diversified culture.
A co-author of the study, Lindell Bromham, a biologist, said that a further study should be conducted to find out if the growth patterns that they have seen are only true to the group of Polynesian languages or apply to all languages.