The Washington Post

Researchers identify present day Turkey as origin of Indo-European languages

By using novel methods developed for tracing the origins of virus outbreaks, researchers say they have identified present-day Turkey as the homeland of the Indo-European language family.

The international team, led by Quentin Atkinson, a senior lecturer at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, used computational methods analyzing words from more than 100 ancient and contemporary languages, as well as geographical and historical data. By doing so, the scientists say they have pinned down the origin, about 8,000 years ago, of the largest global language to the region of Anatolia.

The results, published in Friday’s issue of the magazine Science, coincide with the “Anatolian hypothesis.” Based on archeological data, it states that Indo-European languages spread with the expansion of agriculture from Anatolia, beginning 8,000 to 9,500 years ago.

The prevailing theory among linguists, however, is the “Steppe hypothesis,” explained Michael Dunn, a linguist the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen, Netherlands. The hypothesis is based primarily on an approach to reconstruct the ancestral language. By doing so, linguists have found that most Indo-European languages have related words for “wheel” and “wagon.” This points to the steppes of present-day Russia, 6,000 years ago, as the birthplace of the language family, because this is where the widespread use of chariots, an important technological advance, is thought to have originated.

“Archeologists and linguists have had different favorite theories on the language origins,” said Dunn, a co-author of the recent paper. “But now, new research like ours provides linguistic support for the Anatolian hypothesis.”

The present study builds upon previous work from Atkinson that came to similar conclusions in 2003. It did not, however, include geographical data, as the new study does.

The study is the first to use the novel methods on the Indo-European languages, a family of more than 400 tongues including English, Persian and Hindi. The languages are spoken on every continent by a total of 3 billion people.

“This paper provides strong statistical evidence that unequivocally supports the Anatolian hypothesis,” said Andrew Kitchen, a postdoctoral scholar at Pennsylvania State University, who uses similar research methods.

Yet Dunn does not expect the controversy to be settled, as supporters of the Steppe hypothesis continue collecting evidence strengthening their line of thought. “These things take a lot of time in science, but in the long run, I would bet on our theory,” Dunn said. “You just can’t explain away the data.”



Success! Check your inbox for details. You might also like:

Please enter a valid email address

See all newsletters

Show Comments

Sign up for email updates from the "Confronting the Caliphate" series.

You have signed up for the "Confronting the Caliphate" series.

Thank you for signing up
You'll receive e-mail when new stories are published in this series.
Most Read



Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Your Three. Videos curated for you.
Play Videos
What can babies teach students?
Unconventional warfare with a side of ale
A veteran finds healing on a dog sled
Play Videos
A fighter pilot helmet with 360 degrees of sky
Is fencing the answer to brain health?
Scenes from Brazil's Carajás Railway
Play Videos
How a hacker group came to Washington
The woman behind the Nats’ presidents ‘Star Wars’ makeover
How hackers can control your car from miles away
Play Videos
Philadelphia's real signature sandwich
Full disclosure: 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, 1 ghoul
Europe's migrant crisis, explained

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.