Everyone who’s ever studied Shakespeare knows that languages change over time. And if you look at the vocabulary, it’s obvious that language like French and Spanish are related. Professional linguists classify languages based on how closely they are related, and try to uncover how ancient languages evolved and branched off to form new languages over time.
But looking at how words from different languages are related to each other will only take you back so far. 9,000 years to be precise, which is how old the Indo-European language tree is.
According to the New York Times, biologist Quentin D. Atkinson, working at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, decided to take a different approach: looking at phonemes instead of words. For the non-language geeks out there, phonemes are the smallest elements of language that are capable of changing the meaning of a word. Think consonant sounds and vowel sounds, or, in certain African languages, clicks. Read more