Language Family Traced to Turkey

Times Staff Writer

The family of Indo-European languages that gave rise to English, Latin and Sanskrit first emerged 8,000 to 9,000 years ago and spread into Europe from the Anatolian region of Turkey, according to a controversial new analysis.

The origin of the Indo-European language group is considered one of the most difficult problems in historical linguistics. Scholars have long debated whether the language emerged with the spread of agriculture from Turkey more than 8,000 years ago or was carried into Europe and the Near East by Kurgan horsemen from the Russian steppes 6,000 years ago.

Using a technique called "glottochronology" that analyzes common words used in various languages, two New Zealand biologists have determined that the timing of the emergence of Indo-European languages effectively ruled out the Kurgan horsemen hypothesis. The work is published in the current issue of the journal Nature.

Glottochronology is based on the theory that the number of root words shared by languages indicates how closely the languages are related and when they may have diverged.

The method is similar to DNA analyses that establish the relationships between animal groups by looking at their genetic similarities.

The technique remains hotly debated among many linguists.

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