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"Languages are evolving like living organisms: Australian researchers"

Evolution

Date: 3 February 2015

See article here.

CANBERRA, Feb. 3 (Xinhua) -- Australian researchers have discovered that language is evolving in a similar way to living organisms, changing more frequently when spoken by more people.

A research team from the Australian National University (ANU) has spent a sustained period of time investigating more than 20 languages across Polynesian Islands in an effort to determine how language changes among different populations.

The results, released on Tuesday, have shown that languages with many speakers gain new words and phrases quicker than languages with fewer speakers.

"What we found is that languages with bigger populations of speakers are much more open to innovation," Dr Simon Greenhill from the ANU's Center of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language said in a statement on Tuesday.

"Previous research in language evolution failed to confirm exactly how population size affected the rate of language change."

It is believed that more than 335 million people now speak English across the world, with researchers hoping to expand their studies further than the Polynesian languages tested over the recent period.

They believe that further research will help to understand just how fast particular languages extend across a period of time.

"The results suggest that population density encourages innovation and those innovations spread through the community," Greenhill said.

"In other words, having more speakers generates a churn effect, speeding up the rate of language change."

  • Australian Government
  • The University of Queensland
  • Australian National University
  • The University of Melbourne
  • Western Sydney University