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Epidemiology is the study of patterns, causes and effects, in relation to health and disease but the same principles used in these studies, have been applied to the research of the origins of the Indo-European language family. According to Ethnologue, there are 439 related languages and dialects within the Indo-European language family and with around three billion native speakers it has one of the widest reaches across the world.

The sub-divisions of the Indo-European language family are:
– Albanian Anatolian (extinct)
– Armenian
– Balto-Slavic
– Celtic
– Germanic
– Hellenic
– Indo-Iranian
– Italic
– Tocharian (extinct)

You can see from this list, just how many languages would, on this basis of an Indo-European language family, share similar characteristics as well as similar vocabulary, which is the key to the study of the origins of this family.

The research into the origins of language is extensive and there is an ongoing debate as to whether you can step further back in time to a Proto-Indo-European language. As such a large field, full of complexities and historical developments, it is no wonder that advancements are still being made in the field of linguistics.

Researchers have employed the methods used in epidemiology in order to follow the patterns of languages and their Indo-European language family, with the aim of identifying the source. Quentin Atkinson of the University of Auckland has led a team in this venture and it is now believed that the epicentre of the Indo-European language family beginnings 8000 years ago, is in fact Turkey.

This was achieved by collecting and analysing words from over 1000 languages, both ancient and contemporary and then aligning these words with geographical and historical data to produce a moving picture of how the language family has spread.

Atkinson and his team collected basic vocabulary terms such as body parts, kinship and so on, including both modern and ancient languages. They then identified a list of ‘cognates’ – etymologically related words across different languages. This allowed them to build a picture of the languages interlinking and using the location and history of each languages they were able to trace back to the root of Indo-European.

Following these methods they reached Anatolia more specifically Southern Turkey as the suggested origin. This is also the region proposed as the origin of agriculture before its spread through Europe. It therefore makes sense that it is the source of the Indo-European language family as well.

How reliable do you think this research really is? Is it possible for all these languages, with so many unique features, to have originated from just one proto-language?

For more information on the languages we work with – not just Indo-European – please visit our languages page.

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