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Surprising Ways AI Can Help Recover Lost Languages

Researchers into lost languages hail the new technologies as a golden age for discovery

When an apparently indecipherable manuscript from a lost language turns up, AI can help. But first, how is a language born and how does it die (or get lost)? We really don’t know how human language was born. Theories abound but all we know for sure is that it is unique. In a 2017 paper at BMC Biology, evolutionary biologist Mark Pagel states flatly, “Human language is unique among all forms of animal communication.” In his open-access paper, he cuts short the widely popularized claims for chimpanzee language: Most ape sign language, for example, is concerned with requests for food. The trained chimpanzee Nim Chimpsky’s longest recorded ‘utterance’, when translated from sign language, was ‘give orange me give eat orange…