2011-04-20

    Babel en África

    La semana pasada las dos revistas científicas de más impacto se pusieron de acuerdo para publicar sendos trabajos de lingüística comparada. Por un lado, Quentin D. Atkinson en Science realiza un estudio "biogeográfico" sobre el lugar de origen del lenguaje. Por otro, Michael Dunn encabeza en Nature una investigación filogenética para aclarar la universalidad de ciertos caracteres gramaticales.

    El trabajo de Atkinson es sencillo de explicar. Al igual que la expansión geográfica del ser humano queda reflejada en una pérdida de diversidad genética en las poblaciones más alejadas del origen, África, podría argumentarse lo mismo para los idiomas. O dicho de otro modo, si se observa una correlación geográfica entre la diversidad de los idiomas, puede inferirse el lugar de origen.

    Para su estudio tomaron una variable, la diversidad fonética, y buscaron si existía una correlación entre la misma y la distancia a un hipotético lugar de origen de los 504 idiomas estudiados. La relación más robusta se obtiene situando el origen geográfico en África, concretamente al sur del Sáhara alrededor del golfo de Guinea. Las lenguas de esta zona tienen una mayor riqueza sonora que las progresivamente más alejadas de esa región.

    Más cuesta entender el artículo de Dunn y colaboradores. ¿Es el lenguaje una construcción completamente social o, por el contrario, nuestro cerebro viene predeterminado con estructuras gramaticales comunes a todos los seres humanos? Esta última hipótesis era la defendida por Noam Chomsky. Su teoría de la gramática universal no implicaría que existan semejanzas gramaticales entre todas las lenguas modernas, sino que habría unos módulos formados por características fuertemente unidas y que impedirían la aparición de otras. Estas constricciones vendrían marcadas por la arquitectura cerebral. Algunos críticos calificaron esta teoría de pseudocientífica pues no imaginaban un método capaz de falsarla.

    Justo eso es lo que han logrado hacer ahora. Primero se obtuvo un árbol filogenético basado en similitudes léxicas entre los idiomas pertenecientes a 4 familias lingüísticas bien establecidas. Sobre este árbol se trasladan luego una serie de características gramaticales relacionadas con el orden de las palabras en las frases, para ver si es cierto que existen universalidades. Y no. Cada familia desarrolló sus propias reglas, diferentes de las de las otras.

    ¿Se contradicen las dos investigaciones? No. Un origen común, como parece indicar el estudio fonético, no implica que la gramática de ese hipotético idioma esté fijada por un lenguaje instintivo. Y que las gramáticas de las distintas familias de lenguas sea diferente no implica que no hayan podido evolucionar a partir de un lenguaje ancestral.



    Más lecturas, en inglés: The Economist, Nature News, New York Times

Referencias (TrackBacks)

URL de trackback de esta historia http://evolucionarios.blogalia.com//trackbacks/69492

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