The BBC reveals that English (and just about every other European language) descends from an ancestor that was not Russian, as was the popular belief, but Turkish… according to a study that models spreading languages on viral diseases:
The Indo-European family is one of the largest families – more than 400 languages spoken in at least 60 countries – and its origins are unclear.
The Steppes, or Kurgan, theorists hold that the proto-language originated in the Steppes of Russia, north of the Caspian Sea, about 5,000 years ago.
The Anatolia hypothesis – first proposed in the late 1980s by Prof Colin Renfrew (now Lord Renfrew) – suggests an origin in the Anatolian region of Turkey about 3,000 years earlier.
To determine which competing theory was the most likely, Dr Quentin Atkinson from the University of Auckland and his team interrogated language evolution using phylogenetic analyses – more usually used to trace virus epidemics.
Dr Atkinson and his team built a database containing 207 cognate words present in 103 Indo?European languages, which included 20 ancient tongues such as Latin and Greek.
Using phylogenetic analysis, they were able to reconstruct the evolutionary relatedness of these modern and ancient languages – the more words that are cognate, the more similar the languages are and the closer they group on the tree.
By tracing the tree back to its roots, they figured that the origin point had to be older than the Kurgans and about the same age as the Anatolians.
[via Liminal Nation