Here are mankind's oldest 23 words

Researchers determine earliest words dating back 15,000 years

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"Whether 'tis nobler to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune..."

Image credit: Flickr/Ianz


At some point in time in the evolution of humans, we began speaking.

And while I always had my money on "run away" being the first words uttered by man, it turns out they didn't make the early list.

A new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences argues that 23 specific words date as far back as 15,000 years, making them the oldest know words to date.

Researchers say the words emanate from seven language families originating in Europe and Asia that may have originated from a common language.

The 23 oldest known words are:

I
Thou
We
Not
That
Who
This
What
Ye
Old
Mother
Hand
Fire
Bark
Ashes
Worm
Black
Man/Male
To hear
To give
To pull
To flow
To spit

The research was led by Mark Pagel of the University of Reading's School of Biological Sciences.

In the PNAS abstract, Pagel notes that the "search for ever deeper relationships among the World’s languages is bedeviled by the fact that most words evolve too rapidly to preserve evidence of their ancestry beyond 5,000 to 9,000 years."

So to get around that inconvenience, Pagel and his team "began with 200 words that linguists agree are common among all European and Asian languages. They then determined which sounded similar and had comparable meanings across the different languages," as Discovery.com explains.

From there, the researchers analyzed the roots of these words, reducing the list to an original 23.

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