Every boring email we type or moment of small talk we have at the grocery store is part of a historic and mysterious legacy: the creation of language.
The kind of languages we speak — from Arabic to Mandarin and English — feel like immovable constants in our lives, but in reality, these languages are shifting and transforming at every moment.
While the spread of slang through apps like TikTok or WeChat may seem like a modern phenomenon, new research published in the journal Nature on Wednesday uses genetic, archaeological, and linguistic data to demonstrate that this transformation can be traced back much further — all the way to 2000 B.C.E.
The Transeurasian language family the researchers focused on has connections to modern-day Japanese, Korean, Tungusic, Mongolic, and Turkic.
By tracking the transformation of ancient Transeurasian language, this research can help scientists not only better understand how language changes, but how its speakers change along with it.
Martine Robbeets is a linguist from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History and the first author of the new paper. She explains that the significance of this study is that it shows how powerful linguistics can be when used in collaboration with other disciplines including genetics and archaeology.
“I think that the novelty of the research is not so much in applying one single method, but in bringing different methods and different disciplines together,” Robbeets tells Inverse. “[These questions] cannot be answered with linguistics alone.”
Read more: Inverse