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Words that stand the test of time

Linguists have compiled a list of words that can be traced to old forms around the time of the last Ice Age.

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A University of Waikato academic involved in a groundbreaking and controversial new study on words which have remained in use for around 15,000 years says the team involved expected the results to be controversial but the years of work that went into it were worth it.

"It's a new thing and won’t be accepted by everyone," Dr Andreea Calude says.

Dr Calude, from the University's Department of General and Applied Linguistics at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, was part of a team led by Mark Pagel, an evolutionary theorist at the University of Reading in England, which has come up with a list of words which can be traced to old forms around the time of the last Ice Age.

Tracing origins of language

These 'ultra-conserved' words suggest that separate language families - thought to be unique - can be traced back to a common ancestral language dating back centuries and used across much of Europe to North America and as far south as the Indian Sub-Continent.

Dr Calude says it had been generally accepted that while languages could be classified into families, there was no good way of making links between the different families.

"Most people think you can't reconstruct history beyond language families," she says.

"They think going beyond a single language family is impossible. We had the sense that one should be able to go...

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University of Waikato