June 7, 2011

Speciation of Language

By Joe Jalinsky

Coming to Lima I was determined to speak Spanish as much as possible.  My knowledge of the language is a bit lacking but I usually can get my point across using broken sentences accompanied by a variety of hand or body gestures.  It has led to some confusion.  One night I ordered a bottle of water with ice cream in it when I meant to say ice (helado vs hielo).  For the most part exchanges have been successful and I have been gaining confidence in my ability to communicate.

The group learned some of the history of language in Peru during a tour of a cathedral where the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro lays entombed.  When he came to Peru he found communication difficult with the people as well.  He found it impossible to impose the Spanish language on them so instead the Spanish used their own technologies to learn and reproduce the many native languages in books.  It seem a rare example of an overbearing force submitting and accommodating themselves around the indigenous people. Today about 5% of Spanish spoken in Peru makes use of indigenous Peruvian words.

 

Processing insects

 

In talking with the other students on the trip I can´t help notice how the evolution of organisms and the evolution of language are surprisingly similar in both their hierarchal structure and their mechanisms.  For one, they both can be represented by a tree with branches and sub branches indicating particular lineages. Most surprising to me though was how languages can evolve or speciate by being linguistically separated (no exchange of language between populations).  This happens in evolution where one lineage of organisms becomes physically separated and will proceed down their own evolutionary paths.


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