Examples of Protolanguage Words Reconstructed By UBC Tool. (Credit: Table courtesy of University of British Columbia)

Feb. 11, 2013 — University of British Columbia and Berkeley researchers have used a sophisticated new computer system to quickly reconstruct protolanguages — the rudimentary ancient tongues from which modern languages evolved.

The results, which are 85 per cent accurate when compared to the painstaking manual reconstructions performed by linguists, will be published next week in theProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"We're hopeful our tool will revolutionize historical linguistics much the same way that statistical analysis and computer power revolutionized the study of evolutionary biology," says UBC Assistant Prof. of Statistics Alexandre Bouchard-Côté, lead author of the study.

"And while our system won't replace the nuanced work of skilled linguists, it could prove valuable by enabling them to increase the number of modern languages they use as the basis for their reconstructions."

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