Two is Older than One

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1And so are three and five, but not four.   I’m Spring Cleaning my Inbox, and I ran across this BBC news article from Feb 26 about the Reading Evolutionary Biology Group (consisting of Dr. Mark Pagel and possibly other people) and how they’re analyzing the change of certain words in English and other Indo-European languages.  According to The Telegraph:

Dr Pagel’s work has shown that the pace at which words evolved depends on how they are used. Numerals are the slowest to change, followed by pronouns, probably because they are used extremely often and have a very precise and important meaning. Nouns evolve more slowly than verbs, and verbs evolve more slowly than adjectives. Words that are used less frequently evolve more quickly than those that are common.

The number One is a pretty old word (although apparently it used to be pronounced with a hard o, like only, and only started sounding like “won” about 600 years ago).  Two ,Three, Five, I, and Who are even older, though not much much [and by “old” they’re talking about thousands, if not tens of thousands, of years].  The number word Four, however, evolved much more recently.  I find that last fact rather intriguing, but my searching skills are failing me in learning more about that; perhaps it has something to do with the fact that four doesn’t sound anything like the Latin quattuor or the Greek tessares.

This research also suggests which words will eventually disappear from English.  One leading contender is “dirty”, because there are a lot of unrelated words across the Ind0-European languages that mean the same thing.   Not surprisingly, no numbers were slated for disappearance.

One Response to “Two is Older than One”

  1. jd2718 Says:

    all these IE little numbers seem to have one alliterative non-matching pair out of synch, at least a bit, with other IE languages

    Four five
    Vier funf (or however you spell that)
    cinq six (or cinco seis)
    devyat deysat
    haft has

    amateur folk stuff.

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