Proto-Human

Remembered a story I heard once that Columbus on one of his later expeditions brought along speakers of Hebrew and Arabic, in the hopes that they might be able to communicate with North Americans in some version of the “original language.”  Found myself on the wikipedia page for “Proto-Human language.”

A fairly large number of words have been tentatively traced back to the ancestor language, based on the occurrence of similar sound-and-meaning forms in languages across the globe. The best-known such vocabulary list is that of John Bengtson and Merritt Ruhlen (1994), who identify 27 “global etymologies”.

Source: Ruhlen 1994b:103. The symbol V stands for “a vowel whose precise character is unknown” (ib. 105).

Based on these correspondences, Merritt Ruhlen (1994b:105) lists these roots for the ancestor language:

  • ku = ‘who’
  • ma = ‘what’
  • pal = ‘two’
  • akwa = ‘water’
  • tik = ‘finger’
  • kanV = ‘arm’
  • boko = ‘arm’
  • buŋku = ‘knee’
  • sum = ‘hair’
  • putV = ‘vulva’
  • čuna = ‘nose, smell’

To summarize some further reading: these findings are controversial.



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