A 4 page paper contemplating two questions: (1) the limited value of studying written evidence for language change and (2) the concept of language family and the methods of establishing language ancestry. The paper uses Aitchison’s “Language Change : Progress or Decay?” and McWhorter’s “The Power of Babel: A Natural History of Language” as its base. Bibliography lists 3 sources.
This paper is dedicated to the memory of , research writer and well of wisdom. Studying Language History By
Caldwell, -- properly! Introduction Both Aitchison (2000)
and McWhorter (2003) point at the nebulous concept of "change" early in their respective books, addressing the lasting effects it can have on languages. Each author addresses the issue
of the written record and studying language family history. 1. The evolution of writing systems and the limitations of written evidence for studying language history.
McWhorter (2003) notes that language changes can be seen as being geographical in their origins. He uses an example of a sentence as it would have been
phrased in Latin in 1 A.D., and as it would have been phrased in French in 2000 A.D. (p. 17). Several of the words in the modern French version
are recognizable, as they should be given that French is a Romance (i.e., descended from Rome) language, a direct descendant of the Latin language. The most curious fact about
the similarity of the words used in the two sentences is that they are as dissimilar as they are. Aitchison (2000) supplies similar
examples, specifically in the changes that have occurred in the English language over the past millennium. She provides an example of text written by Robert Mannyng in the 14th
century. "He claimed that he made his language as simple as he could so that ordinary people could understand it, yet it is barely comprehensible to the average person