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Going viral 9,500 years ago: 'English descended from ancient Turkey'

Cunning linguists back Indo-European chat theory

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Linguiboffins have traced the origins of Indo-European languages to Turkey using the same methods developed to track bird flu, HIV and other viruses.

"If you know how viruses are related to one another you can trace back through their ancestry and find out where they originated,” said lead researcher Dr Quentin Atkinson of the University of Auckland. “We’ve used those methods and applied them to languages.”

The viral modelling traced languages such as English and German to Anatolia, what is now Turkey, where they were first used about 8,000 to 9,500 years ago. The researchers looked at basic vocabulary from 103 ancient and contemporary Indo-European languages, and found that the age and location matched their Anatolian theory.

They hypothesise that the languages spread with the expansion of farming into Europe through the Balkans, reaching western Europe about 5,000 years ago. The theory is backed up by genetic and skull-measurement data that also indicates an Anatolian contribution to the European gene pool.

The same team had put forward the idea of Anatolia before, using methods from evolutionary biology to build up the languages' family tree, but not all other linguiboffins were convinced.

Before this, linguists had theorised that Indo-European languages came from the Pontic steppe region north of the Caspian Sea and were spread into Europe and Asia by Kurgan semi-nomadic pastoralists 5,000 to 6,000 years ago.

The study was published in the journal Science. ®

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