Re: Did man originally speak a single language?

gordon brown (gbrown@euclid.Colorado.EDU)
Thu, 5 Nov 1998 10:08:13 -0700 (MST)

Since words can change their meanings over long periods of time and since
words can be replaced by other words with similar meanings, it often
happens that words that correspond in meaning in two closely related
languages are not cognates. If we want to compare words where such changes
are not likely to have taken place, we might look at numbers, and
especially at small numbers since they are more likely to have existed in
an ancient ancestral language.

I have a small paperback dictionary at home that gives equivalents in 26
languages for 1000 common words. Although the relationships within a
language family are pretty obvious, I don't detect similarities across
family boundaries for most of these numbers, but I do see some interesting
comparisons when I look at the words for seven.

presumed Indo-European word: septm (from which it is easy to trace the
etymology of the word in the Indo-European languages)

7 in some non-Indo-European languages:

Hungarian: het Finnish: seitseman

Arabic: sabaa Hebrew: schivah Swahili: saba

Japanese: schichi

Gordon Brown
Department of Mathematics
University of Colorado
Boulder, CO 80309-0395