Send to

Choose Destination
Science. 2008 Feb 1;319(5863):588. doi: 10.1126/science.1149683.

Languages evolve in punctuational bursts.

Author information

School of Biological Sciences, University of Reading, Reading RG6 6AS, UK.


Linguists speculate that human languages often evolve in rapid or punctuational bursts, sometimes associated with their emergence from other languages, but this phenomenon has never been demonstrated. We used vocabulary data from three of the world's major language groups-Bantu, Indo-European, and Austronesian-to show that 10 to 33% of the overall vocabulary differences among these languages arose from rapid bursts of change associated with language-splitting events. Our findings identify a general tendency for increased rates of linguistic evolution in fledgling languages, perhaps arising from a linguistic founder effect or a desire to establish a distinct social identity.

Comment in

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free full text

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for HighWire
Loading ...
Support Center