A Wall Street Journal article on human language evolution quotes SFI's Murray Gell-Mann, who suggests it is possible to use data from modern languages to trace language origins back 10,000 years or even further.
His remarks were in response to research just published in Science by Quentin Atkinson, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. Atkinson's research finds that the first migrating populations leaving Africa laid the groundwork for all the world's cultures by taking their single language with them. The world's 6,000 or so modern languages may have all descended from this single ancestral tongue spoken by early African humans between 50,000 and 70,000 years ago, Atkinson believes.
Read the Wall Street Journal article (April 15, 2011)
Read the Science paper (April 15, 2011)