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linguistic evolution January 29, 2010

Posted by t-maker in History, Miscellaneous, Science.
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According to the new study, human languages may adapt more like biological organisms, namely the more common and popular the language, the simpler its construction to facilitate its survival.

For years, it has been the reigning assumption in the linguistic sciences that languages develop is based upon random change and historical drift. But a large-scale statistical analysis of more than 2,000 of the world’s languages provides an evidence that there is a striking relationships between the demographic properties of a language – such as its population and global spread – and the grammatical complexity of those languages. Languages having the most speakers were found to have far simpler grammars, specifically morphology, than languages spoken by few people and in circumscribed regions.

Larger populations tend to have simpler pronoun and number systems and a smaller number of cases and genders and in general do not employ complex prefixing or suffixing rules in their grammars. A consequence is that languages with long histories of adult learners have become easier to learn over time.

The authors of the study insist that their results draw connections between the evolution of human language and biological organisms.

The conclusion is the following:

A consequence is that languages with long histories of adult learners have become easier to learn over time.

The full article may be found here.

It looked convincing enough for me, as a non-specialist in linguistic studies. But then I turned to the List of languages by number of native speakers From Wikipedia. The largest number of native speakers has Mandarin Chinese (estimated as 800,000,000). I don’t think that it is the easiest language to learn (not only for Europeans). Mandarin Chinese is followed by Spanish (358,000,000 speakers) and English (350,000,000) in number of speakers, comparatively simple languages. But then we have Hindi/Urdu (200,000,000), Arabic (150,000,000), Bengali (170,000,000), Russian (160,000,000)… I think the studies like that can prove only one thing: Anglocentrism of the researchers.

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