Linguists link English, Hindi to single ancestor language spoken 6,500 years ago

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New research suggests that Indo-European languages emerged from a single common ancestor language spoken on the Russian steppes more than 5,500 years ago.  Photo by  Johan Klovsjö/Flickr

New research suggests that Indo-European languages emerged from a single common ancestor language spoken on the Russian steppes more than 5,500 years ago. Photo by Johan Klovsjö/Flickr

Linguists have traced the roots of English, Hindi, Greek and all Indo-European languages to a common ancestor tongue first spoken on the Russian steppes as much as 6,500 years ago.

New research from the University of California-Berkeley emerged after linguists analyzed reconstructed vocabulary, including words such as “I am,” “bear,” and “wood” from more than 150 living and dead languages, as well as archaeological data.

Then, researchers relied on statistical models and phylogenetic analysis — or how the languages evolved — to track how quickly these words changed over time to pinpoint when the languages broke away from the ancestor language, or Proto-Indo-European. Linguists also linked innovations in animal husbandry to spread languages from a steppe that stretches from Moldova and Ukraine to Russia and Kazakhstan’s western frontier.

The study’s authors said:

Our most important conclusion is that statistical phylogenetic analysis strongly supports the steppe hypothesis of IE origins, contrary to the claims of previous research. This in turn contributes to the study of Eurasian linguistic prehistory, indicating that IE language dispersal was not driven by the spread of agriculture.

This study offered new evidence that supports the “steppe hypothesis” about the origins of the Indo-European language family. Another theory suggests that this language family actually sprang from what is now modern-day Turkey more than 8,000 years ago.

The report will be published in the March issue of the journal Language, according to the Linguistic Society of America.

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