Nov 23, 2011
Little is known about the hypothetical protolanguage from which all modern ones descended, which could date back 50,000 years. However, Merritt Ruhlen of Stanford University and Murray Gell-Mann of the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico argue that the word order must have been subject-object-verb. In a family tree of 2200 languages, living and dead, based on how similar sounds were used to convey similar meanings, they found that subject-verb-object (I drink beer) languages always descended from subject-object-verb (I beer drink) ones – never the other way round.
About the author
Compiled by John Swain, Northeastern University.
M Ruhlen and M Gell-Mann 2011 PNAS.