Better Software for Reconstructing Ancient Languages Developed

Guest_Jim_* - February 13, 2013 06:41PM in Science & Technology

While some would say that French is a language of romance, linguists would say that it is a Romance language, along with Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Romanian. The term 'Romance language' is used to describe those languages which are descended from Latin, the language of Rome, which is still understood and used today. Other ancient languages however have been lost, but their descendants survive, so linguists will compare these modern languages to reconstruct their ancestor. Now researchers at the University of British Columbia and University of California, Berkeley have developed a new computer system to perform this reconstruction for the linguists.

Reconstructing a protolanguage involves grouping words with common meanings together, analyzing common features, and considering how phonics may change over time. This is a very tedious process, so effectively computerizing it is possibly something many linguists have been hoping for. However it is also a nuanced process, so actual linguists will likely always be superior to a computer program, though this system did achieve 85% accuracy, compared to actual linguists.

The researchers who created the new system do not see it being used to replace linguists but to aid them, by doing the brunt of the work and allowing more languages to be compared at once. This would be similar to how computers and statistical analysis affected the field of evolutionary biology.

Source: University of British Columbia