The words for bark in at least four of the languages studied were found to have a common root. Photograph: Alamy
Languages spoken by billions of people across Europe and Asia are descended from an ancient tongue uttered in southern Europe at the end of the last ice age, according to research.
The ancestral language, spoken at least 15,000 years ago, gave rise to seven more that formed an ancient Eurasiatic “superfamily”, the researchers say. These in turn split into languages now spoken all over Eurasia, from Portugal to Siberia.
“Everybody in Eurasia can trace their linguistic ancestry back to a group, or groups, of people living around 15,000 years ago, probably in southern Europe, as the ice sheets were retreating,” said Mark Pagel, an evolutionary biologist at Reading University.
Linguists have long debated the idea of an ancient Eurasiatic superfamily of languages. The idea is controversial because many words evolve too rapidly to preserve their ancestry. Most words have a 50% chance of being replaced by an unrelated term every 2,000-4,000 years. Read more…