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The latest on the origins of English
Thread poster: xxxPaul Roige
xxxPaul Roige
Local time: 02:35
English to Spanish
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Dec 1, 2003

Well, it has to come from somewhere, and it ain't Londinium apparently:

English language traced to Turkish farmers

December 1, 2003

Auckland University researchers have stunned academics around the world by tracing the origins of the English language to Turkish farmers.

Using a novel approach to develop an Indo-European language tree, the researchers say they have evidence the roots of the English language go back about 9,000 years to Turkey.

Associate Professor Russell Gray and PhD student Quentin Atkinson published their research in the British journal Nature and their findings on the long debated origins of the language have quickly spread in news headlines around the world.

The origin of the Indo-European language family has been the most intensively studied problem of historical linguistics, but numerous genetic studies had produced inconclusive results.

For almost two centuries linguists and archaeologists debated two theories on the origins of the language family whose members ranged from Greek and Hindi to German and English.

It was thought the language was either spread by rampaging Kurgan horsemen who swept down on Europe and the Near East from the steppes of Russia 6,000 years ago, or by farmers from Anatolia (modern day Turkey) who had tilled their way westwards several millennia earlier.

Gray, an evolutionary biologist within the university's psychology department, said his results showed only the latter theory could be correct.

Gray said he had used computational methods derived from evolutionary biology to study the problem for the past five years.

He accepted his approach to build an evolutionary tree of the Indo-European languages was controversial and subject to criticism.

But he believed it was a valid technique that had clearly shown the origins of the English language went back further than had been thought, excluding the Kurgan horsemen theory.

It appeared that Indo-European languages had expanded with the spread of agriculture from Anatolia 7,800 to 9,800 years ago.

Gray was encouraged that his research had been supported in the United States by Stanford University's eminent geneticist Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza.

Gray and Atkinson had analysed thousands of words from 87 languages (past and present) to find out when the various branches of the Indo-European family tree started diverging.

"We looked at words from different languages that were clearly related and grouped them in sets."

Gray said a simple example was that five was cinq in French and cinque in Italian.

"We built matrices of all our information, gleaned from the Internet and every obscure etymological dictionary we could find."

The researchers then used sophisticated computer programs to do the analysis and build language trees.

The length of the resulting branches and their various offshoots showed when each language diverged from its predecessors and developed a separate identity.

Gray said Hittite (an extinct Anatolian language) was the first major language group to branch from the Indo-European trunk.

Over subsequent millennia the same trunk sprouted Tocharian, Armenian, Greek, Albanian, Iranian, Indic, Slavic, Baltic, Germanic, French/Iberian, Italic and Celtic language groups.

Gray said the findings had wider implications than just language development.

Languages, like genes, provided vital clues about human history, and archaeologists and geneticists had taken as active a part in the debate as linguists, he said.

A Marsden Fund grant from the government and a James Cook Fellowship from the Royal Society of New Zealand helped pay for the research.

Sydney Morning Herald"

Yours to ponder.

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Katherine Zei  Identity Verified
Local time: 19:35
Italian to English
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Pondering Dec 1, 2003


I always thought English developed out of a clash of the Romans (Latin), the Angles and the Saxons (Germanic influence), the Normans (French), but I guess that's too simplistic.

English is a bit of a hodge-podge of Germanic and Romance languages, though.

Keep us posted! Very interesting developments.


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