By NICHOLAS WADE
Linguists have devised a new way of linking languages, which they say has allowed them to reconstruct a network of the languages spoken in islands near New Guinea.
The new method is designed for languages so old that little trace of their common vocabulary remains. It forges connections between languages through grammatical features, which change less quickly than words.
With the new tool, historians may be able to peer considerably further back in time than the 5,000 to 7,000 years or so that many linguists see as the limit beyond which no sure connections can be made between languages ...
The researchers, who were led by Michael Dunn, of the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen, Holland, have published their work in the current issue of Science.
They say that on the basis of grammatical similarities they have constructed a network of the Papuan languages spoken in the island groups east of Papua New Guinea. Traveling eastward, these are the Bismarck Islands, Bougainville and the Solomon Islands.... [read more]