How Indo-European Languages Evolved

Watch: This Map Shows How Indo-European Languages May Have Evolved

This fascinating animated map provides one of the best demonstrations we’ve seen of how modern Indo-European languages evolved over the past 8,000 years. The Indo-European languages are a group of more than 400 languages that contains everything from Polish and French to Icelandic and Hindi, and scientists have worked out that they all originally came from one single language spoken in the region of Anatolia, in present-day Turkey.

The animation, which was created by Business Insider’s science team, shows how the languages spread from Anatolia through farming to various parts of Europe and Asia, changing as they went until they eventually became the languages we recognise today. And it’s pretty crazy to think that such varied dialects all came from the same starting point.

The map is based on a seminal study led by evolutionary biologist Quentin Atkinson from the University of Auckland in New Zealand, which was published in Science back in 2012 (Read more Quentin Atkinson). In his research, Atkinson used the same computational methods that geneticists use to trace flu virus outbreaks to map the spread of language evolution around the globe. 

To do this, Atkinson and his team looked at common words – such as hand, foot, mother, father, fire, water – from more than 100 ancient and modern languages, and then compared how similar these words were across different languages. They then used these similarities and differences in the same way that geneticists use DNA, to create a family tree of language. This allowed them to trace all the way back along the tree to find the root of modern Indo-European languages.

Watch the animation above, and get inspired by the fact that most of our ancestors started out speaking the same language. 


How Indo-European Languages Evolved

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *