Are Germans related to Turks

Origins in Turkey : The German language comes from Anatolia

Once upon a time, in the distant past, there was a small people. We know almost nothing about his relatives. And yet they influence the lives of around three billion people who now settle between Iceland and Sri Lanka. Because they communicated in a language from which more than 400 Indo-European languages ​​developed. The crux of the matter, however, is that although historical linguists have been following their tracks for about 200 years and carefully drawing language trees, it is still unclear who these people were and where they lived. Now scientists step on the scene and proclaim with confidence that their methods can solve the tricky riddle better. Such a study appears in the journal “Science” today and will probably rekindle the dispute between linguists and natural scientists.

Two theses dominate the debate and give different answers to where, when and why. The cradle of the Indo-European language was around 6,000 years ago somewhere north of the Caspian and Black Seas in the Russian steppe, claim the majority of historical linguists together with a number of archaeologists. A warlike nomadic people of the Kurgan culture spread the Proto-Indo-European language on horseback, with two important inventions in their luggage: the wheel and the taming of the horse.

The scientific competition favors the peaceful counter-thesis and locates the original home of the Indo-European languages ​​in Anatolia. The peasants of the Neolithic period gradually expanded their fields and so 8000 to 9500 years ago not only displaced the lifestyle of the hunters and gatherers, but also their languages. This is also underpinned by the study that Russel Gray and Quentin Atkinson from the University of Auckland in New Zealand and their colleagues are now publishing in Science.

The researchers borrowed a statistical model from evolutionary biology, which is typically used to predict the course of influenza epidemics and trace them back to an outbreak location. Instead of the virus genome, they fed in cognates, similar-sounding words such as “mother”, “mother” or “madre”, which have a common origin. For 200 meanings such as names for relatives, body parts or simple verbs, they put together word variants with a common origin in 103 languages ​​(20 of which have long since died out). And instead of the spread of the viruses, they entered the current spread of the respective languages ​​or known dates from history. In this way, they were able to trace the origin of the Indo-European languages ​​back to the Neolithic Anatolia over thousands of years. An algorithm provided the most likely family tree variants - including dating and geographical distribution. None of the many possible family trees had their roots in the Russian steppe.

Finding the home of the Indo-European languages ​​is not an academic exercise, emphasizes linguist Paul Heggarty from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig. "After all, it is the largest language family in the world; it has been the best researched and documented," he says. Again and again it serves as a yardstick for the development of other language families. “If the yardstick was wrong, it would have a huge impact. In that case we have to rethink the timing and the role of agriculture in the spread of languages. "

Many historical linguists are unwilling to do this. A storm of indignation broke out as early as 2003 when Gray and Atkinson published a first study using a similar method in "Nature". Even the evolutionary biological model used at that time dated the emergence of the Indo-European original language in such a way that only the Anatolian farmers could be considered as their speakers, even if the method could not yet trace its geographical distribution.

“That can't be right!” It rang from every corner at the time. The databases that Gray and his colleagues use are out of date. To rely only on vocabulary is negligent anyway. And anyway: The analogy from the origin of species to the origin of languages ​​is far too simplistic. Some equated the new methods with the quantitative methods that the linguists tried out in the 1950s and rejected because of outrageous results.

“There were misunderstandings on both sides,” says Heggarty. Many linguists were unfamiliar with the complicated methods of evolutionary biologists and looked for points of attack to defend their work. The natural scientists, on the other hand, too often treated linguistic data as confirmed facts, even if behind every cognate there were decades of research and numerous interpretations that can just as easily be revised.

The early history of humans does not work like clockwork, says Heggarty: "It is about plausibility, not about yes or no." Nevertheless, the advocates of the steppe thesis should find it difficult to explain. "The models of biologists are getting better."

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