Vox is an interesting relatively new site that I discovered a couple months ago; one of the editors/principal writers is Matthew Yglesias, who left Slate to help create this site, with Ezra Klein. One thing I admire about the site is the way it uses the format of the web to create pieces that would be impractical to print — a general principle I kept in mind when I first developed Locus Online, and explained at length in a couple of early blog posts – IIRC I described three principles: immediacy, that you can post things right away, and more frequently than you can do in a print publication, even a daily one; accumulativeness, that compilations of data can be continuously updated, as with indexes and encyclopedia, rendering print editions of those things obsolete (Wikipedia! Sfadb.com!); and something else, which is probably now so obvious to everyone I don’t recall it offhand. I’ll look it up.
So here’s a cool Vox post, a set of maps that describe the history of the English language, how changes in the language spread, where changes happened, and so on.
This triggers a thought I’ve had that I don’t think I’ve mentioned here: I wonder if there are language creationists?
Who believe that existing languages were ‘created’ (maybe last Tuesday?) as they exist today, who dismiss evidence of historical relationships (e.g. the many European languages derived from Latin) as atheistic malarkey, and so on? After all, *were you there?* Ken Ham would make his phony distinction between real science and historical science, since conclusions about the historical development of languages would rely on indirect evidence about things that happened when no one living today was alive.
I’m guessing not, because the guttural resistance to the evidence of biological evolution has to do some peoples’ need to feel special, chosen by God, apart from mere animals, despite all the massive evidence otherwise. The same factors don’t come into play with languages.
But I am seriously curious to what extent evolution of languages is analogous to biological natural selection; I haven’t seen this spelled out anywhere, so am speculating here myself. Languages become distinct through geographic isolation; they become distinct [as do species] when they are mutually unintelligible [cannot interbreed]; and so on. And languages keep changing, especially by the creation of new slang by groups precisely in order to demarcate themselves from other groups and from the broader population, with such new words sometimes filtering outward anyway [I saw some article recently on this very subject, that ‘gangs’ and various subcultures invent slang precisely to help distinguish those who are in-group from everyone else… but of course can’t find the article just now.] …. Just as random genetic changes in populations provide the grist for natural selection…
Follow-on: 16mar15: Yes I know about the Biblical parable about the Tower of Babel. But do Biblical literalists therefore think that languages have not changed since then? Surely the Tower of Babel was thousands of years ago…
And another aside I’ll explore sometime: languages change constantly, especially at the in-group level, where gangs or esoteric societies adopt new usages for common words *precisely* because new meanings are needed, or simply to enforce the designation of who is in-group and who is out-group. Some of these changes filter out in common society, some don’t. But no language remains static.