Comparative linguistics, also known as comparative philology — once the central focus of linguistics — employs methods to compare languages to discover how they relate historically. Popular into the mid-twentieth century, comparative linguistics remains an important branch of historical linguistics, though nowadays most linguists concern themselves with studying the system of language itself. In the first decade of the 21st century, non-linguist biological evolutionits have developed an interest in historical linguistics, applying computational methodologies used by evolutionary biologists to study organic evolution:
In the past five to ten years, more and more non-linguists such as [Mark] Pagel [at the University of Reading, UK] have used the computational tools with which they model evolution to take a crack at languages. And one can see why. Like biological species, languages slowly change and sometimes split over time. Darwin's Galapagos finches evolved either large beaks or small; Latin amor became French amour and Italian amore. Darwin himself noted the 'curious parallel' between the evolution of languages and species in The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex.
References and notes cited in text
- Harris E. (2008) Language: The language barrier. Nature News Feature. Vol. 453. Published online 21 May 2008.
- Article Lead-In: Some researchers think that the evolution of languages can be understood by treating them like genomes — but many linguists don't want to hear about it.