Proto-World language

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The term Proto-Human language (also Proto-Sapiens, Proto-World) designates the hypothetical most recent common ancestor of all the world's languages.

The concept of "Proto-Human" presupposes monogenesis of all recorded spoken human languages. It does not presuppose monogenesis of these languages with unrecorded languages, such as those of the Paleolithic or hypothetical Neanderthal languages. Advocates of linguistic polygenesis do not accept the notion of a fully developed Proto-Human language and derive the world's language families as independent developments out of a proto-linguistic form of communication used by archaic Homo sapiens.

If the assumption of a "Proto-Human" language is accepted, its date may be set anywhere between 200,000 years ago (the age of Homo sapiens) and 50,000 years ago (the age of behavioral modernity).[citation needed]



There is no generally accepted term for this concept. Most treatments of the subject do not include a name for the language under consideration (e.g. Bengtson and Ruhlen 1994). The terms Proto-World and Proto-Human[1] are in occasional use. Merritt Ruhlen has been using the term Proto-Sapiens.

History of the idea

The first serious scientific attempt to establish the reality of monogenesis was that of Alfredo Trombetti, in his book L'unità d'origine del linguaggio, published in 1905 (cf. Ruhlen 1994:263). Trombetti estimated that the common ancestor of existing languages had been spoken between 100,000 and 200,000 years ago (1922:315).

Monogenesis was dismissed by many linguists in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when the doctrine of the polygenesis of the human races and their languages held the ascendancy (e.g. Saussure 1986/1916:190).

The best-known supporter of monogenesis in America in the mid-20th century was Morris Swadesh (cf. Ruhlen 1994:215). He pioneered two important methods for investigating deep relationships between languages, lexicostatistics and glottochronology.

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