A handy little guide to small talk in the Stone Age

Mark Henderson, Science Editor

A “time traveller’s phrasebook” that could allow basic communication between modern English speakers and Stone Age cavemen is being compiled by scientists studying the evolution of language.

Research has identified a handful of modern words that have changed so little in tens of thousands of years that ancient hunter-gatherers would probably have been able to understand them.

Anybody who was catapulted back in time to Ice Age Europe would stand a good chance of being intelligible to the locals by using words such as “I”, “who” and “thou” and the numbers “two”, “three” and “five”, the work suggests.

More nuanced conversation would be more of a challenge. The analysis of language evolution suggests that none of the adjectives, verbs and nouns used in modern languages would have much in common with those used then.

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