Many words that were used 15,000 years ago during the the Ice Age in Europe could still be recognised today, according to a new study.
Researchers from the University of Reading found that ancient Ice Age people might have used words including "I", "you", "we", "man" and "bark" that are still in use today.
Based on statistic models, Professor of Evolutionary Biology Mark Pagel and his team envisaged that certain words like pronouns and adverbs might have changed slowly over long periods of time in order to retain their traces of their ancestry for upto 10,000 or even more years. Such words point to the existence of a super-family tree that unites seven major language families of Eurasia - Indo-European, Uralic, Altaic, Kartvelian, Dravidian, Chuckchee-Kamchatkan and Eskimo-Aleut.
Earlier studies have relied on shared sounds among words to identify words that are derived from common ancestral works - for example, "pater" in Latin and "father" in English. However, there is some difficulty in this approach. For instance, two words might share the same sound by accident such as "team" and "cream".
To avoid this problem, Pagel and his research team showed that a subset of words which are used frequently in speech might be retained for longer periods of time. Using this method, researchers predicted words likely to have shared sounds "giving greater confidence that when such sound similarities are discovered they do not merely reflect the workings of chance."
"The way in which we use a certain set of words in everyday speech is something common to all human languages. We discovered numerals, pronouns and special adverbs are replaced far more slowly, with linguistic half-lives of once every 10,000 or even more years," Pagel said in a statement.
"As a rule of thumb, words used more than about once per thousand in everyday speech were seven to ten times more likely to show deep ancestry in the Eurasian super-family."
Pagel and his team found at least 23 words that have a common ancestor. The words include "mother", "fire", "ashes", "that", "to give", "who", "this", "what", "hand", "to hear", "bark", "black", "old", "male" and "worm". But, these words might have sounded different, said Pagel.
"The words would not sound exactly the same, but they would be recognisable, or in a form that we could easily learn to recognizable," Pagel told MailOnline. "The words for mother, for instance, sound like mama or something similar."
Pagel said that more research work needs to be done on common languages. "The fact we can find these ancient links should encourage us to do more of it," he said.
The details of the findings are published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.