quinta-feira, fevereiro 26, 2009

A idade das palavras

Investigadores da Universidade de Reading, perto de Londres, concluíram quais são as palavras mais antigas da língua inglesa e de outras línguas indo-europeias. Essas palavras, que têm cerca de 40 mil anos, são as correspondentes a “eu”, “nós”, “dois”, e “três”.

A BBC informa que foi através que um modelo computorizado que aqueles investigadores puderam levar a cabo a sua pesquisa, acreditando-se agora que se pode concluir quais as palavras irão desaparecer (por exemplo, “squeeze”, “guts”, “stick”, “bad”) e que se pode datar a utilização de outras: “At the root of the effort is a lexicon of 200 words that is not specific to culture or technology, and is thereby likely to represent concepts that have not changed across nations or millennia”, diz a BBC, que cita Mark Pagel, biólogo evolucionista da mesma universidade: “We have lists of words that linguists have produced for us that tell us if two words in related languages actually derive from a common ancestral word. (…) We have descriptions of the ways we think words change and their ability to change into other words, and those descriptions can be turned into a mathematical language”.

O trabalho, fruto de cooperação entre linguistas, biólogos, e outros especialistas, partiu de relações de palavras “in order to develop estimates of how long ago a given ancestral word diverged in two different languages. They have integrated that into an algorithm that will produce a list of words relevant to a given date. ‘You type in a date in the past or in the future and it will give you a list of words that would have changed going back in time or will change going into the future,’ Professor Pagel told BBC News. ‘From that list you can derive a phrasebook of words you could use if you tried to show up and talk to, for example, William the Conqueror. There's lots of words he wouldn't have understood — like ‘big’, ‘bird’, ‘heavy’, and 'here'. The words he would've used would've derived from a different common ancestral word to the English words that we're using today.’”

Os resultados da investigação permitem ainda saber a frequência com que uma palavra é usada e a velocidade com que varia através do tempo. Daqui decorre que, como já se previa, as palavras mais comuns são as mais antigas: “For example, the words ‘I’ and ‘who’ are among the oldest, along with the numbers ‘two’, ‘three’, and ‘five’. The number ‘one’ is only slightly younger. The number ‘four’ experienced a linguistic evolutionary leap that makes it significantly younger in English and different from other Indo-European languages.”

Em contrapartida, as palavras que têm mais variação são as que poderão desaparecer mais depressa, sendo substituídas por outras: “For example, ‘dirty’ is a very rapidly changing word; there are 46 different ways of saying it in the Indo-European languages, all words that are unrelated to each other. As a result, it is likely to die out soon, along with ‘stick’ and ‘guts’. Verbs also tend to change quite quickly, so ‘push’, ‘turn’, ‘wipe’ and ‘stab’ appear to be heading for the lexicographer's chopping block.”

O Professor Pagel afirmou também que algumas destas palavras devem ter pelo menos 40 mil anos: “The sound used to make those words would have been used by all speakers of the Indo-European languages throughout history. (…) Here’s a sound that has been connected to a meaning — and it's a mostly arbitrary connection — yet that sound has persisted for those tens of thousands of years.” A teoria assim exposta confirma a crença, desde Saussure, de que o signo linguístico é arbitrário: “The work casts an interesting light on the connection between concepts and language in the human brain, and provides an interesting insight into the evolution of a dynamic set of words.”

O trabalho desenvolvido por esta equipa de investigadores pode ser experimentado neste endereço.

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