A controversial study just released by a group of historical linguists proposes that twenty-three words still in use today have survived mostly unchanged from the end of the last ice age. Using statistics, the researchers have tried to prove that these 15,000-year old “ultraconserved” words come from one mother tongue. That language, which they call proto-Eurasiatic, formed seven language branches which in turn led to the 700 modern languages which all share some variant of the twenty-three words.
True or not, the study engages the imagination. What words were most important to the earliest civilizations and why do those words have staying power? I’m not a linguist and I’m not a poet, but the list makes me wish I were both. There’s a poem in these words, and likely additional linguistic discoveries.
Eight of the words are pronouns, colorless words necessary for basic face-to-face communication: I, we, thou, ye, who, this, that, what. Two refer to people: mother and male/man. One is a useful negative: not. There are only two adjectives: old and black. The list is rounded out by five nouns, worm, bark, hand, ashes, fire, and five verbs, to give, to pull, to spit, to flow, and to hear.
So here’s my own proposal: let’s have a little poetry contest using the ultraconserved words. I’ll print the best ones on this blog, and I’ll poem-elf them as well with pictures of the poems in their new settings.
Here’s the rules:
- Poem must use at least 15 of the 23 words.
- Poems can be no longer than twelve lines.
- Poems can also be prose-poems of the same length.
That’s it. Them’s all the restrictions.
Email your poems to email@example.com. Deadline is June 1. I’ll post a reminder/plea for entries each week till then.
Sorry to say there will be no prizes. The reward is the pleasure of creating a poem within a set of boundaries, and the small recognition that comes from being published on a blog with a sympathetic audience.
Speaking of audience, thanks to all who visited my blog after I was “freshly pressed” a few weeks ago. I’m delighted to have so many new readers! And amazed at how many creative blogs there are out there.
I’m considerably less delighted to be getting spam followers all the sudden. Is anyone else having this problem? I wish I could delete them. So many spam followers are coming in that I’ve stopped visiting the blogs of new followers because I don’t want to give any satisfaction to the fake ones.
But again, thank you, WordPress, and thank you readers!
Looking forward to reading your ultraconserved poems.