Linguists and biologist tussle over original language

An observant British diplomat serving in India, Sir William Jones, observed in the late 18th century that many word roots in Sanskrit matched word roots in Greek and Latin, which led to further linguistics research which ultimately linked a stunningly large group of languages, from English to Finnish, to Sanskrit, all the Latin languages (French, Spanish, Italian, Romanian, etc.), the Slavic languages (Russian, Polish, Serbian), and a host of other languages, some living, some extinct.

Now there is disagreement over where the first language, called Proto Indo-European, or PIE, came from. The latest theory was proposed by a biologist, Dr. Quentin Atkinson of the University of Auckland in New Zealand. He takes the origins farther back than ever before, from 4,000 to 9,000 years ago.  Since we are, so far, discussing theories which can never be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, there are arguments for at least these two theories, each having a claim that sounds reasonable to me.

I don’t see why the language could not have originated with pastoralists in what is now Turkey 9,000 years ago, and then been spread by chariot-driving conquerors from lands above the Black Sea 5,000 years later. We might be able to have our pie and eat it too.

You can read the recent article in The New York Times here, and for more details, you can refer to the August 24th issue of Science here.

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