How Language Evolves

Language evolution hero
The grammar of negating a sentence has changed from «Ic ne secge» (Beowulf, c. 900) to «Ic ne sege noht» (the Ormulum, c. 1100) to «I seye not» (Chaucer, c. 1400) to «I doe not say» (Shakespeare, c. 1600) before returning to the familiar «I don’t say» (Virginia Woolf, c. 1900). A team from Penn used massive digital libraries along with inference techniques from population genetics to quantify the forces responsible for language evolution, such as in Jespersen’s cycle of negation, depicted here. (c) Cherissa Dukelow, 2017, license information below

«March of progress» drawing:

(c) Cherissa Dukelow, 2017, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (

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