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'Indo-European' languages first emerged 6,500 years ago

Using data from over 150 languages, linguists from University of California, Berkeley have found that "Indo-European languages" originated 5,500-6,500 years ago on the Pontic-Caspian steppe stretching from Moldova, Ukraine to Russia and western Kazakhstan.



Washington: Using data from over 150 languages, linguists from University of California, Berkeley have found that "Indo-European languages" originated 5,500-6,500 years ago on the Pontic-Caspian steppe stretching from Moldova, Ukraine to Russia and western Kazakhstan.

Linguists have long agreed that languages from English, Greek to Hindi, are known as 'Indo-European languages'. They are the modern descendants of a language family which first emerged from a common ancestor spoken thousands of years ago.

The new article provides support for the "steppe hypothesis" or "Kurgan hypothesis" which proposes that Indo-European languages first spread with cultural developments in animal husbandry around 4500-3500 BCE.

An alternate theory proposes that they diffused much earlier, around 7500-6000 BCE in Anatolia in modern-day Turkey.

For the study, lead study author Will Chang and his team examined over 200 sets of words from living and dead Indo-European languages.

After determining how quickly these words changed over time through statistical modeling, they concluded that the rate of change indicated that the languages which first used these words began to diverge approximately 6,500 years ago.

This is one of the first quantitatively-based academic papers in support of the "steppe hypothesis" and the first to use a model with "ancestry constraints" which more directly incorporate previously discovered relationships between languages.

In future research, methods from this study could be used to study the origins of other language families, such as Afro-Asiatic and Sino-Tibetan.

The study is forthcoming in the academic journal language.

 

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