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Origin of Indian languages traced to Turkey

Kalyan Ray New Delhi, Aug 24, 2012, DHNS 22:39 IST

Majority of these were spoken by pre-historic farmers of the country

A new study has suggested that languages spoken in North India and in a majority of countries across the world originated from an extinct language spoken by pre-historic farmers who lived in modern day Turkey almost 8,000-9,500 years ago.

According to the study published in the August 24 issue of Science, languages spoken by them (pre-historic farmers) traveled across the globe and coinciding with the spread of agriculture branched out into 400 diverse languages, including a large number of modern ones spoken by three billion people in every inhabited continents.

Indian languages that can trace their origin back to “Anatolia” (largely in Turkey) include Marathi, Hindi, Gujarati, Bengali, Kashmiri, Oriya, Marwari, Bhojpuri and Urdu. All of these along with English belong to a family called “Indo-European languages”. Interestingly, the south Indian languages were not taken into consideration as they had a Dravidian origin.

This is one of the largest language families in the world and includes Celtic, Germanic, Italic, Balto-Slavic and Indo-Iranian languages.

Some of the prominent descendents are English, German, French, Spanish, Russian and Polish as well as Indo-Iranian languages like Persian and Hindi, and ancient ones such as Sanskrit and Greek. “To the untrained ear, languages like English, Dutch, Spanish, Russian, Greek and Hindi might all sound very different from each other but in fact, they show remarkable similarities because of which scholars concluded that these languages and hundreds of others across Europe and Near East are in fact all related, having sprung from a common source,” said Michael Dunn from Radboud University in the Netherlands and one of the authors of the study.

The latest findings support one of two hotly debated hypothesises for the origins of this language family. Previously some researchers proposed that Anatolia was the source of this language family, beginning 8,000 to 9,500 years ago.

But there is an alternate hypothesis suggesting, the Indo-European language originated in north of the Caspian Sea in the Russian steppes, where it was first disseminated by a semi-nomadic, horse-riding people known as the “Kurgan”, starting about 6,000 years ago.

To test both of these hypothesises, Quentin Atkinson at University of Auckland in New Zealand and colleagues in Europe adapted a computational method used by evolutionary biologists to work out how species are related in a family tree, based on similarities and differences in their DNA.

Instead of comparing species, the authors compared Indo-European languages, and instead of DNA, they looked for shared cognates, which are words that have a common origin, such as “mother”, “mutter” and “madre”.

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