Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

Language Origins, Linguistic Change: A Survey of Recent and Current Non-standard Theories

Mark Newbrook.

The paper - prepared by an active 'skeptical linguist' with an especial focus on historical linguistics - presents a summary skeptical survey of the most prominent recent and current non-standard theories of language origins and/or linguistic change. These theories have been proposed by amateur enthusiasts (including professionals in other disciplines) or by members of minority groups of scholars on the fringe of the professional mainstream. There is an important Italian component in this topic area, involving the 'Neolinguistic' school of historical linguistics which was prominent in the early-mid 20th Century and was associated with a broader 'idealist' tendency in Italian linguistics and more generally with the philosophy of Croce; despite its rejection in the mainstream, it has continued to appear in peripheral work such as that of Fano, and some of the relevant ideas may still be relevant to ongoing debate. On a broader front there is a huge range of non-mainstream theories of various degrees of plausibility: 'creationist historical linguistics' (both Judaeo-Christian and Vedantic), religiously- and/or nationalistically-inspired identifications of specific modern or ancient languages as the ancestral Ursprache/Proto-World, modifications of comparative methods and novel proposals regarding linguistic relationships arising from these, other novel claims about the relatedness of languages thought to be unrelated or about early contact between them, etc. An attempt is made to indicate the origins of some of the more significant proposals and to assess their status.


Mark Newbrook  (United Kingdom)
Honorary Research Associate
Linguistics Program School of Languages, Cultures & Linguistics
Monash University

Mark Newbrook was born in Heswall, near Liverpool (UK), in 1956. He was educated at Birkenhead School, Oxford University (Corpus Christi College, BA in Classics, 1978) and Reading University (MA in Linguistics, 1979; PhD in Linguistics, 1982). He has taught and carried out research in linguistics in Singapore, Hong Kong, Perth (WA) and Melbourne (Monash University, 1990-2002). Currently he is an Honorary Research Associate at Monash and also at the University of Sheffield (UK).

  • Historical Linguistics
  • Language Origins
  • Linguistic Change
  • Non-standard Theories

(30 min. Conference Paper, English)