Researchers at Reading University have reached the conclusion that some of the oldest words in the English language, going back tens of thousands of years, are ‘I’, ‘we’, ‘two’ and ‘three’. They also claim to be able to calculate the likelihood of certain words completely dying out, mentioning ‘squeeze’, ‘guts’, ‘stick’ and even ‘bad’ as likely future candidates.
Like an English language time machine, after punching a year into their supercomputer it produces a list of words that would have been, or will be, understood at that time. Just imagine how much easier it would have been for Bill and Ted to communicate with the historical figures they met if they’d had access to such useful information; although if that was the case maybe the word ‘dude’ would have become extinct by now!
If, like me, you’re thinking why the number ‘one’ seems to have been forgotten, it’s believed to have followed very quickly afterwards. However, that just leads me to wondering why ‘one’ was not as important as ‘two’ and ‘three’. Perhaps the concept of ‘one’ was fairly easy to imply and the use of it was therefore not so immediately necessary?
The evolution of words is supposedly dependent on the usage of them; those which are used more frequently are far more resistant to change. It makes sense that words with very precise meanings like the pronouns ‘I’ and ‘we’ remain, whereas other less frequently used words (adjectives and verbs for example) can easily be replaced by other words having the same or similar meaning and thus become extinct.
So, I’m now left to ponder why the death of one of the first words we all learn (‘bad’) has been predicted and what on earth it will be superseded by…
Read more about the research here.