why does everyone think Latin is the oldest language?

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by science man, Sep 21, 2010.

  1. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    Except you, of course. You already have monopoly over science.

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  3. sorry I'll be sure to do that.
    What? I read on Wikipedia the dates of languages and it said Greek was older.
    If Wikipedia is incorrect than is it always quoted as a reference around here?
    oh that's right I forgot to think about cave writings.
    ok fine but that doesn't go for people who didn't pay their "taxes"
    no, my question was which branch of Christianity came first.
    I know that. That's not what I'm, talking about./ I'm talking about the fact that Christians are the ones who believe in his existence. Not the Jews. (of current time)
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  5. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    Some reading up on critical thinking is in place.
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  7. rcscwc Registered Senior Member

    No. Fraggle is a sceintific giant. Others are just pygmies.
  8. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    We don't know the origin of any of the New World people (south of the Arctic) except the Na-Dene, because recent research (just a couple of years ago) discovered a relationship in both their DNA and their languages with the Yenisei people of Siberia. That migration was around 15,000 years ago, and it's very difficult to establish language relationships that far back because they change too much. This one was a miracle and I wouldn't expect it to happen again any time soon.

    Nonetheless, all the people in the Western Hemisphere migrated from Asia so they have to be related to somebody. We were never sure whether the technology of language was 15,000 years old, or was invented independently in many places more recently. Now that we know about the 15,000 year-old Yenisei-Dene family, it gives viability to the hypothesis that the first language or language is more ancient than we have ever been able to determine. It's certainly possible that the ancient Dravidian tribes were distantly related to the ancestors of the Maya. DNA analysis of all the world's ethnic groups is still under way, so it will be a while before we can look for a genetic relationship.

    Nonetheless, the New World people all have genetic markers identifying them as members of the "Mongoloid" group (as it used to be called): the Eastern Asians including the Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Vietnamese, etc. I don't know much about the Dravidians but I always thought they were "Caucasoid," related to the Indo-Europeans and other so-called "white" people.

    But going further back, the same DNA analysis discovered that all humans outside of Africa are descended from a single tribe, the San or "Bushmen." They used to live near Sinai and a group of them were the explorers who established the human colonies outside of Africa, but since the desertification of the Sahara everyone moved south and they now live at the other end of the continent. But that migration occurred 50,000 years ago and we have no way of relating their modern language to any of our languages.
    Sure, but which version of Greek? The Latin spoken in the Roman Empire is a few hundred years younger than the Greek spoken in the Greek Empire, but
    • A) That's an almost insignificant difference
    • B) Both languages evolved in a continuum from older forms. We don't know how far back we'd have to go to find an older form of Greek that Homer could not understand, nor an older form of Latin that Caesar could not understand, because those even more ancient languages were never written down.
    We know how far back we have to go to find an older form of English that Shakespeare could not understand, because it was written down. We know that neither Caesar nor Homer could have understood Proto-Indo-European, but we don't have enough information to determine at what point it evolved into languages that they could understand.

    When it comes to spoken, as opposed to written, ancient languages, I don't consider an age difference of a few centuries significant because the data isn't precise enough to take seriously.
    You must mean "cave paintings." That was imagery, not language. The earliest writing we have is on stone and clay.
    You can say exactly the same thing about people who don't pay their taxes today. We don't usually shoot them but they are punished rather harshly by our modern standards. If you file for bankruptcy in the USA the only debts that are never canceled are your student loan and your taxes.
    There were no "branches" originally because it was only one religion. The schism between the Eastern Orthodox church and what we now call "Catholicism" happened between 500 and 600CE, but they both claim to be the "original" form of Christianity. The Reformation, the founding of the Protestant churches, began in 1517 when Martin Luther (after whom the Lutheran church is named) tried to reform the Catholic Church, and was completed in 1648 when the amazingly bloody war between the Catholic and Protestant disciples of the "Prince of Peace" more-or-less ended. The Mormon church (officially the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints), which many Christians do not believe to be a branch of Christianity, much less Protestantism, was founded in 1830. Rastafarianism, which is an offshoot of Christianity but not widely regarded as a branch of Christianity, was founded in 1930. The Unitarian Universalist church is also an offshoot of Christianity but it does not preach the divinity of Jesus and many congregations even downplay the existence of God; it was founded in 1961.
    The Jews do not deny the existence of Jesus, they simply don't believe he was the Mashiakh or "Messiah." The Muslims not only accept his existence but also regard him as a prophet, just not the latest one.
    I'm not even a professional scientist. Although I have an extensive education in science, my degree is in business administration and my career is in software development and management, and I now make a living as a writer and editor.
  9. oh ok thanks for the info, but there's still one thing that remains. When I said that thing about Greek and Latin about I read on Wikipedia that Greek is older and you said sure but which version. Sorry I thought it was obvious, I'm talking about the oldest versions of both languages.
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 28, 2010
  10. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    We have no way of knowing what the "oldest version" of any language is before it was written down--except within very broad limits that are useless for a comparison like this. Obviously older forms of both Greek and Latin must have been spoken for quite a while before the Greek tribes, and later the Roman tribes, settled down, built cities, learned to write, and established transcontinental empires. But we can't point to a year on the calendar and say, "At this date the language had changed so much that people couldn't understand the old one, so it's time to call it a new language."

    Languages don't change abruptly. We talk about Anglo-Saxon (which used to be called "Old English") evolving quickly into Middle English after the Norman Invasion of England in 1066. But still it took quite a few generations for the influence of Norman French to make Beowulf (the most famous composition in Anglo-Saxon) not easily understood by Chaucer (the fourteenth-century author of the Canterbury Tales, the most famous composition in Middle English).

    Some languages change more slowly than others. Educated people in Greece can still read the writings of Plato and Aristotle in the original Ancient Greek. I have a friend whose family lived there in the 1970s. She became fluent in Greek and got her university education there. At that time Ancient Greek was the official language of the university system, although that's not true today.

    That's certainly not the case in Rome. Its modern language has changed so much from the language of Virgil and Cicero that no one can read their works without learning it first. We don't even call their language "Modern Latin," we call it "Italian."

    Chinese does not use a phonetic writing system, so the Chinese still write their words the same way they did 2,500 years ago, and everyone can read the original writings of Confucius and the old scholars. But the pronunciation has changed drastically and no one would be able to understand the speech of Confucius. There are six or eight different languages in China, all descended from Ancient Chinese, and none of them are mutually intelligible. (Mandarin, Cantonese, Shanghai, etc.)

    Other languages have undergone deliberate or accidental preservation. Hebrew ceased to be a vernacular language 2,500 years ago and was preserved for liturgical use until it was revived as the official language of Israel, so a modern Israeli could probably understand Moses, although each would think the other has a weird provincial accent. The Arabs everywhere have striven to maintain a standard dialect of Arabic that is close to what Mohammed spoke, and in the electronic age it's the language of the broadcast media and formal international events, even though national and regional dialects can be quite different.

    Sometimes when a linguistic community is isolated from outside influence, the forces of change are weak, and an ancient dialect can endure for millennia. This is undoubtedly why Yeniseian, the language of a nomadic people in Siberia, could be recognized as a relative of Navajo and Tlingit--fifteen thousand years after the ancestors of the American Indians left Asia.
  11. oh ok hmm maybe it's that the oldest language between Latin and Greek as far as what has been written down is Greek. Maybe that's what Wikipedia was going by, eh?
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 28, 2010
  12. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Probably. It's a no-brainer that when the Greeks began writing Greek the Romans were speaking Latin.
  13. Walter L. Wagner Cosmic Truth Seeker Valued Senior Member

    Rome was reportedly founded by Greeks, i.e. Livy writes that Trojans leaving Troy came to the Italian peninsula, and one of the descendants was Romulus, who then established the city of Rome a few decades (centuries?) later. Were they speaking ancient-Latin on the Italian peninsual, and the Greek settlers assimilated into their new culture, including adopting the Latin language; or did the Language slowly change from ancient-Greek to ancient-Latin while they were living on the Italian peninsula? I.e., when/where did the split occur between ancient Greek and ancient Latin, which are similar languages.
  14. rpenner Fully Wired Valued Senior Member

    Greek and Latin probably had no common ancestory not common to most Indo-European languages, which is to say they diverged circa 4-5000 B.C. and were almost certainly distinct circa 2000 B.C.


    Greek is a member of the languages classified as Hellenic which have records going back to circa 1400 BC.
    Latin is a member of the languages classified as Italic which have written records going back to circa 650 BC.


    And Livy himself discounts the stories of Rome's founding with this in the Preface: "The traditions of what happened prior to the foundation of the City or whilst it was being built, are more fitted to adorn the creations of the poet than the authentic records of the historian." Thanks to the destruction of historical records in 390 B.C. early Roman history is flaky, but archeology of Rome established thousands of years of prehistory to the city allegedly founded in 753 B.C.

    Last edited: Sep 28, 2010
  15. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Rhea Silvia, the mother of Romulus and Remus, was raped by the Greek God Mars, so they were half-divine. Rhea's brother, King Amulius, was afraid that his nephews would take back the throne he had stolen from their father, so he had them drowned. They were rescued and suckled by a she-wolf, a motif still common in the city's art.

    Most of us don't put much stock in this history of Rome.

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    The majority of linguists put the Italic and Hellenic groups in the Western Branch of the I-E family, although the entire family relationship is becoming less clear in the light of recent research. That would make Latin and Greek more closely related to each other and to the Celtic and Germanic languages, than they are to the Eastern Branch (the Baltic, Slavic and Indo-Iranian groups) and to the isolates like Armenian and Albanian. After all, both Latin and Greek retain the K in the word for "hundred," the defining difference between the "Kentum" and "Satem" languages (Latin centum vs. Sanskrit satem.)

    As I noted in an earlier post, there is some speculation that Latin is an offshoot of the Celtic group, since it has many similarities to the Celtic languages. Since we don't know where the Romans came from, they could very well be a lost Celtic tribe.
  16. rpenner Fully Wired Valued Senior Member

    The deep time picture of European Linguistics is a little mushy, but we both agree that Latin did not evolve from Greek, but from a common ancestor. Is the Kentum/Satem split well-dated?

    Wikipedia suggests that this hypothesis is not in vogue as being parsimonious with the distribution of languages. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Centum-Satem_isogloss
  17. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    A little??? Linguistics is one of the softest of the "soft sciences." Evolutionary biology, one of the weakest of the "hard sciences," provides two independent sources of hard evidence--DNA and fossils--for the theories of its practitioners. All we have are the current languages and their ancestral forms--going only as far back as their particular linguistic community left durable written records.
    And there is a respectable hypothesis that, on the contrary, Latin and Proto-Celtic evolved from a common intermediate ancestor.
    Hardly. Even the Wiki article on the Indo-European family only dares give the hypothetical time of the appearance of the subgroups that still exist, such as Germanic and Indo-Iranian. The technology of writing came rather late to the Indo-European tribes, so we haven't got the detailed evidence necessary to guess when the earlier splits took place.

    Not to mention, there are languages that don't fit into the Kentum-Satem model and represent either isolates or extinct third and fourth branches, including living ones like Armenian and dead ones like Hittite.
    I don't know if it has enough detractors yet to be called "out of vogue," but this is an example of why you can call the whole field of Indo-European linguistics "mushy." It's still not settled whether the Baltic and Slavic languages derive from a common intermediate ancestor. I don't remember where I saw it any more, but one scholar even said there was enough evidence to remove Greek from the Kentum branch.

    Unfortunately the airing of this dirty laundry in public (which of course is one of the hallmarks of modern science that distinguishes it from the secretive rationale behind the superstitious nonsense that preceded it) is what justifies the invalidation of the entire model of an Indo-European language family for various sorts of non-scientists. These include crackpots, adolescents with a year and a half of scholarship, nationalists with a political agenda, zealots with a religious agenda, laymen with too much time and not enough training, and a few members of SciForums. There is absolutely no controversy over the Indo-European model among the top tier of linguists who achieved their position of respect and authority by the time-tested method of being reviewed by their peers.

    And Indo-European is the most arduously studied language family, with written records going back three millennia. Imagine how hard life is for the people who specialize in Siouan or Austronesian!
  18. rpenner Fully Wired Valued Senior Member

    Well, at least I know my limitations and cited sources that were kind enough to provide hints of the care needed in adopting a viewpoint.

    Possibly Economics is softer than Linguistics since there is at least as much political spin and kind of a disconnect between model and reality.

    Linguistics: The genesis of human language is rare, and existing human languages are passed with temporal and spacial continuity, with modifications, to later generations and some of these modifications are driven by forces which are comprehensible.

    Economics: Humans are rational decision makers, so by figuring out what is rational, one may predict choices made by individual or groups of humans.
  19. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    I was certainly not referring to you. I can hardly escape that category myself! Lately some skepticism has been posted about the validity of the Indo-European family.
    Having briefly been an Econ major after being a science major, I certainly agree. Supply and demand is a sound theory, but the rest of it...? How could any economist call himself a true scientist if he advocated communism, a system in which the individual contributions of people to the economy (and therefore their aggregate contribution) are not required to correlate with what they take out???
    We still don't know whether the technology of language was invented once and spread rapidly like the domestication of the dog or cat, or invented in multiple times and places like the bow and arrow, farming, pottery or writing.
    I parted company with the gurus right there!
  20. Arachnakid Linguist-In-Training Registered Senior Member

    Latin is an important piece of the linguistics puzzle in that it has strongly influenced most European languages, and in that because of its importance in the Catholic church it has survived beyond its usefulness in common speech. Many English words have their origins in Latin and Greek, so those would be considered the most important non-Germanic languages if your studies are limited to English. However, it is certainly not the "oldest" language and it is not the basis for all linguistics.

    (I wish I knew more about these things...with people like Fraggle Rocker around, I am fascinated by reading these forums but embarassed by my own contributions. At least this is an area I will be learning about in the near future.)
    Last edited: Oct 25, 2010

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