Skip to main content

Language Origination: Word Similarities or Geographic Spread

Dr. Atkinson and his colleagues are researching the origins of Indo-European languages such as English, French, Persian, and Hindi. They began by compiling a list of words that are considered to be “resistant to linguistic change” such as pronouns, body parts and family relations. Afterwards, they scored 103 Indo-European languages based on this list, giving the language a zero for each cognate that had been replaced by an unrelated word and a one otherwise. The reasoning behind doing this is that two languages are likely to have originated from the same language or one is likely to have originated from the other if they have several of these words in common. Thus, two languages have a stronger relationship between them if they were given scores of one for the same words. Similarly, two languages have a weaker relationship between them if they were given scores of zero for the same words. Based on this scoring methodology, Dr. Atkinson developed his theory that the Indo-European Languages originated in Anatolia about 9,000 years ago.

Linguists have for some time believed that the Indo-European languages originated in the Pontic steppe about 4,000 years ago, an entirely different area and time period. This theory is based on the fact that the pastoralists residing in these steppes had chariots which facilitated the further spread of both their language and power.  One can think of the different areas of Europe as nodes that are connected by an edge if a viable travel route exists between them. In this setup, the Pontic steppe would be considered a hub since the pastoralists drove chariots allowing them to form more connections, or bridges, with other areas and nodes.

Both theories of the origination of Indo-European languages seem probable even though, they are supported by considering very different properties of networks. Whether it is better to justify the origination on the strong and weak ties between words or the vastness of how geographically connected one area is to other areas is still up for debate. It appears that more research needs to be done to form a more concrete conclusion.


Leave a Reply

Blogging Calendar

September 2012
« Aug   Oct »