Origins of Indo-European languages

Now evolutionary biologists have jumped in where linguists fear to tread, namely the stormy question of when and where Indo-European languages originated. Russell Gray and his student Quentin Atkinson of the University of Auckland in New Zealand are reasonably confident this group of 87 languages -- as diverse as English, Lithuanian and Gujarati -- arose between 8,000 and 9,500 years ago. Proceeding on the belief that "language, like biological species, diverge with time," Gray used a technique from a branch of research called molecular phylogenetics

 
Published: Wednesday 31 December 2003

Indo-European Languages Origin

Now evolutionary biologists have jumped in where linguists fear to tread, namely the stormy question of when and where Indo-European languages originated. Russell Gray and his student Quentin Atkinson of the University of Auckland in New Zealand are reasonably confident this group of 87 languages -- as diverse as English, Lithuanian and Gujarati -- arose between 8,000 and 9,500 years ago. Proceeding on the belief that "language, like biological species, diverge with time," Gray used a technique from a branch of research called molecular phylogenetics. This computational and statistical method compares genes and builds family trees by inferring when different biological organisms diverged during evolution; but instead of genes, our researchers used vocabulary and grammar and so built a "family tree" of Indo-European languages.

There are two competing theories on the origin of Indo-European languages. One says they arose 6,000 years ago among nomadic Kurgan horsemen sweeping down the Russian Steppes. Some researchers say they spread their language -- and their genes -- across Europe "through the sword" and through the use of horse-drawn carriages. The other says that these languages arose among farming communities in Anatolia (now Turkey). Gray's findings support the latter.

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