Planning on traveling into the past? Have you just discovered a time machine that will bring you back to the days of the caveman? What will you say to the people you find there or will you be able to communicate at all? In almost every movie where someone travels to the past, they encounter people and after only minutes, are able to communicate freely with them. Is this really possible? Some scientists think it is…to a point.
The study of glottochronology is based on the idea that language changes at a constant average rate which should allow us to be able to trace the changes in language through history, thus making it possible for us to figure out how to “speak” the English language during any part of history. Does this really work? It assumes that there are words that essentially do not change, such as “I”, “who”, “two”, “five” and “thou”, and words that will disappear from the language after a short period of time (words in our vocabulary such as “stick”, “dirty”, “guts” and “squeeze”.) So if you do pop back in time, try to avoid those words if you want to fit in with the locals.
Here is an example of a language being traced. (Courtesy of Alexander Bainbridge at his blog TransCaucasus.)
You can read more about the idea right here.