BBC News reports: Modern Indo-European languages – which include English – originated in Turkey about 9,000 years ago, researchers say.
Their findings differ from conventional theory that these languages originated 5,000 years ago in south-west Russia.
The New Zealand researchers used methods developed to study virus epidemics to create family trees of ancient and modern Indo-European tongues to pinpoint where and when the language family first arose.
Their study is reported in Science.
A language family is a group of languages that arose from a common ancestor, known as the proto-language.
Linguists identify these families by trawling through modern languages for words of similar sound that often describe the same thing, like water and wasser (German). These shared words – or cognates – represent our language inheritance.
According to the Ethnologue database, more than 100 language families exist.
The Indo-European family is one of the largest families – more than 400 languages spoken in at least 60 countries – and its origins are unclear.
The Steppes, or Kurgan, theorists hold that the proto-language originated in the Steppes of Russia, north of the Caspian Sea, about 5,000 years ago.
The Anatolia hypothesis – first proposed in the late 1980s by Prof Colin Renfrew (now Lord Renfrew) – suggests an origin in the Anatolian region of Turkey about 3,000 years earlier.
To determine which competing theory was the most likely, Dr Quentin Atkinson from the University of Auckland and his team interrogated language evolution using phylogenetic analyses – more usually used to trace virus epidemics. [Continue reading…]