How Languages Evolve

Find out how thousands of languages emerged over the course of human history.
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  • 1In the biblical story of the Tower of Babel,...
  • 2...all of humanity once spoke a single language...
  • 3...until they suddenly split into many groups unable to understand each other.
  • 4We don't really know if such an original language ever existed,...
  • 5...but we do know that the thousands of languages existing today...
  • 6...can be traced back to a much smaller number.
  • 7So, how did we end up with so many?
  • 8In the early days of human migration, the world was much less populated.
  • 9Groups of people that shared a single language and culture often split into smaller tribes,...
  • 10...going separate ways in search of fresh game and fertile land.
  • 11As they migrated and settled in new places,...
  • 12...they became isolated from one another and developed in different ways.
  • 13Centuries of living in different conditions, eating different food...
  • 14...and encountering different neighbors turned similar dialects...
  • 15...with varied pronunciation and vocabulary into radically different languages,...
  • 16...continuing to divide as populations grew and spread out further.
  • 17Like genealogists, modern linguists try to map this process...
  • 18...by tracing multiple languages back as far as they can...
  • 19...to their common ancestor or protolanguage.
  • 20A group of all languages related in this way is called a "language family,"...
  • 21...which can contain many branches and subfamilies.
  • 22We may never be able to determine how language came about...
  • 23...or whether all human languages did in fact have a common ancestor,...
  • 24...scattered through the babel of migration.
  • 25But the next time you hear a foreign language, pay attention.
  • 26It may not be as foreign as you think