Genetics research and development reshaping linguistic context

As an evolutionary biologist at the University of Auckland in New Zealand and comparative psychologist, Gray broke the animal cognitive linguistics and historical research has always been considered the scientific method can not be used condition.

Genetics research and development reshaping linguistic context

Darwinism help Russell Gray explain why crows like this can make a hook rod-like tool. Source: GODFREY BOEHNKE

In twelve years, each historical linguists will use this method, because these tools really powerful.

“I was just a part of my life a passionate man, bird and fishing.” Russell Gray said. He took the binoculars and fishing rod, walking in a small way Tiritiri Matangi Island is a wildlife refuge here. Gray, 54-year-old strode forest, eager to point out the island’s rarest birds, describing their ecological history, and happily told he had to catch a big fish. “I also love food and wine.” He said.

After a moment, he said, pointing to a pair of spot cormorants, “This is the subject of my first evolutionary studies, so I like them.” Seems to be the cormorants and other seabirds paved Gray leading to the evolution of human language and culture studies the way. Despite the interest in Gray’s very extensive, but there is no doubt that evolutionary biology at the top. As an evolutionary biologist at the University of Auckland in New Zealand and comparative psychologist, Gray broke the animal cognitive linguistics and historical research has always been considered the scientific method can not be used condition.

No miracle

Language to an unknown speed changing, so for many linguists, the analysis of the relationship between different languages ​​is more like an art than a science. But through the help of genetics, Gray and his colleagues use evolutionary method to change the subject, which was portrayed as scientific a prehistoric era. The research team revealed the original Austronesian and Indo-European (PIE) language history and residents, and track their migration over a wide range.

British evolutionary biologist at the University of Reading, Mark Pagel mentioned, although controversial, Gray’s thesis is still dramatic impact on the field, many researchers regard him as a “pioneer of reform.” The new method has prompted the German Max Planck Society Gray hired him as director of the Joint Institute for history and science.

However, the Max Planck Society officials met with Gray did not even realize he has another research focus: animal cognition. Such as the origin of language and other complex thinking is how the problem evolved is considered beyond the scope of science. But Gray believes that the “black box” had a evolutionary way of thinking. He is currently in charge of the University of Auckland New Caledonian crows project, this bird’s ability to make a simple tool machining biologists surprised. “These crows can make tools, but other birds not, this is a reason this is not a miracle.”

You can say, “no miracle” is Gray’s motto.

Evolutionary forces can “explain many things.” After reading Richard Dawkins’s “selfish gene”, the still high school Gray Tauranga deeply affected. Thus, relying on the evolution of love, he obtained a doctorate and taught at the University of Otago. “In New Zealand’s South Island, there are many wonderful birds, I began to be interested in the behavior of seabirds.”

Using existing Pelecaniformes (including pelicans and cormorants) social behavior description, 1996, Gray made 12 acts genealogy, and compared them with published morphological and genetic profiles were compared. Most of the results of these patterns match, which shows a similar behavior of birds have a common ancestor.

Science into linguistics

For Gray, the “thinking in the same way human language is not a leap shape and arrangement of the words have a lot of records.” He had heard Polynesian languages, including Maori, Tongan and Samoan. Just heard, he will be able to say that they must closely related. Just like the behavior of birds, Gray doubt arise on the Pacific island language, “the language of a hereditary changes.” His main point is: because of shared ancestry between each other like “words like gene.”

For example, in English “mother” and in German “mutter” same pronunciation, because they are derived from the same PIE word “mehter”. Linguist called cognates of such words, and use them to build pedigree, show the relationship between these languages.

Gray will analyze a step further: the gene for hereditary tracking software is also applicable to linguistics. In 2000, he and his colleagues in “Nature” magazine published an article, they used the language tree test about Pacific Islanders Austronesian speaking ancestors hypothesis: in a few thousand years, is China Taiwan residents spread rapidly to all islands, or the Austronesian and other languages ​​are slowly over a longer period of time integration. After analyzing the 77 Austronesian and 5185 words, the researchers found, the oldest language in Taiwan.

“After the paper was published out, I was elated.” Similarly the study of language evolution Pagel said, “He showed that you can use language materials testing questions in human history.”

2009, the research team used a more complex statistical material, expand their Austronesian analysis found that these languages ​​gust to deviate and change, these times may be associated with a particular invention, for instance the canoe and sail. “By contrast the language table to arrive at these conclusions the idea a bit fanatical.” University of California, Berkeley Historical linguists Andrew Garrett said.

When Gray and his colleagues applied their technology to a larger problem – when the origins of Indo-European, Garrett and other linguists expressed opposition to the relevant conclusions.

In addition, there are two conflicting assumptions: 9000 to 8000 years ago, PIE originated in Anatolia language, and with the expansion of settlements and the expansion of the user; or it is only 6000 years ago, and only appeared in the Black Sea northern Caspian steppe, and then spread out through the nomads and warriors horses and carts. And after most linguists agree a hypothesis.

In a series of papers, Gray team used software to analyze the 103 in Europe and Asia, ancient and modern language vocabulary. They established the phylogenetic tree, and pointed out that PIE originated in 7600 years ago. They then used the method another branch from the biological, the use of a software program to determine the geographical origin of the pathogen. Results tree and map display, Anatolia is PIE hometown.

Constantly questioned

But these conclusions and some linguists oppose research methods. “My linguistic research controversial when we published the results, people will leave to attend linguistics conference room.” Gray said.

Linguists have no objection to Gray’s language tree, which basically concluded that the use of traditional methods to match. But they oppose the assertion Gray about the origin of PIE place and time. University of Pennsylvania, said the historical linguist Don Ringe, inconsistent with his conclusion, “Indo-European origin and diversity of the best archaeological results.” This conclusion is based on the “wheel” of cognates, from Sanskrit into Greek and then in German, the word appears in multiple branches of the Indo-European.

Linguist said that these cognates have originated in a PIE vocabulary (k’ek’los) transformation, the word first appeared in 5500 years ago – the first archaeological date wheel appears. Moreover, these early nomads wheels and axles and related, rather than Anatolian people.

Ringe and other critics also oppose quantitative methods Gray, because it will change the rate of change for the words. These are cognate languages ​​evolution history theme, which is a technology currently under suspicion, the language has been used to determine the time and expansion. “Cognate languages ​​evolved historian problem is that it assumes that the words to a steady rate of change.” Gray said. But he noted biologist at the construction of the first molecular clock, there are also the same error. But by making them “not strict” clock software program found a way to solve the problem.

Despite the controversy, Garrett said he and some other historical linguists now recognize the power of Gray’s biological methods, and himself began to use this method. He and his colleagues will soon publish its own analysis of the evolution of PIE, they will use more precise cognates and models. Moreover, their conclusions support prairie assumptions.

However, Garrett adds: “In fact, these linguistic evolution analysis we conducted entirely thanks to Gray in a decade or two, each historical linguists will use this method, because these tools really powerful. Gray very creative. “

In the Max Planck Society, Gray will not only explore linguistics. His research extended to the field of culture, which he was keen to study social factors led to belief in God, and small tribes into large national issues such as how to develop a method to learn to use the system occur. “Cultural Anthropology think political structures and religious generate no rules, but for me, these are empirical questions, we should not just waved. There is no miracle.”

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