| 1 September 2012
Indo-European languages originated in Anatolia
Indo-European languages belong to one of the widest spread language families of the world. For the last two millennia, many of these languages have been written, and their history is relatively clear, but controversy remains about the time and place of the origins of the family.
The majority view in historical linguistics is that the homeland of Indo-European is located in the Pontic steppes (present day Ukraine) around 6000 years ago. The evidence for this comes from linguistic palaeontology. In particular, certain words to do with the technology of wheeled vehicles are arguably present across all the branches of the Indo-European family, and archaeology tells us that wheeled vehicles arose no earlier than this date.
The minority view links the origins of Indo-European with the spread of farming from Anatolia, 8000-9500 years ago, and is decisively supported by the present analysis, which combines a model of the evolution of the lexicons of individual languages with an explicit spatial model of the dispersal of the speakers of those languages.
A large international team identify the language family's origins using innovative Bayesian phylo-geographic methods on data from the Indo-European Lexical Cognacy Database (IELex), in their paper 'Mapping the Origins and Expansion of the Indo-European Language Family'.
Beyond the intrinsic interest of uncovering the history of language families and their speakers, phylogenetic trees are crucially important for understanding evolution and diversity in many human sciences, from syntax and semantics to social structure.
Edited from ScienceDaily, AlphaGalileo (23 August 2012)
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