A New Look at Old Languages: The Indo-European Language Tree

The scholars that have studied the origins of the human vernacular have been of two minds in history; the faction that believes in the cultural scenario of the advancement of human speech, and the stalwarts who believe in the biological scenario of the evolution of language.

Image via ethnologue.com

Image via ethnologue.com

The Cultural Scenario

This is the belief that language is simply a cultural artifact that is to be studied like fossilized bones, pottery, or stone knives. This group of linguists believe that our spoken vocabulary was developed relatively recently in time (within the last 100,000 years).

The Biological Scenario

These groups of linguistic historians (which include American linguist Noam Chomsky) believe that the human language is a result of purely biological circumstances, and that it is a natural occurring part of human evolution that has slowly progressed over a period of hundreds of thousands of years, if not millions. In this scenario “language” was as evolved as it was ever going to be around 100,000 years ago.

In either hypothesis, what is absolutely agreed upon between the two is the monumental role that the human “tongue” has played in advancing cultural traditions, and regional social unity across the planet.

Modern language

Language is widely believed to have originated from a centralized source that was surrounded by the cradles of ancient civilizations around the region of the Black Sea, known today as The Middle East, Russia, and the Baltic Region. The first form of traceable dialect was called Anatolian that began to spread over 8,000 years ago. It is said to have even pre-dated Latin. This ancient basic root of modern voice moved across the continent and beyond from the outskirts of India, all the way to the tip of South America.

The Language Tree

Just like the tree of life, the tree of language shown in the graph Old World Language Families grew slowly from thin branches that eventually flourished over the ages into the great tree trunks that form the foundations of modern civilization. The Anatolian seedling grew to form Tocharian, Armenian, Greek, Albanian, Indo-Iranian, Balto-Slavic, Germanic, Italic, and Insular Celtic.

Today, as in the past, the power of speech is somewhat taken for granted by the world’s populations. For some, speech unfortunately is used as a tool of division rather than inclusion. For others it is a form of art in the prose of poetry. It is also an important expression of endearment, commitment, and loyalty to friends, family, and lovers.

Tracing the Origins of Words

By tracing the background of commonly used words that have survived in similar form for thousands of years through numerous cultures and ethnicities, linguistic researchers have shown us how integrated language and world-wide human social interaction are.

The Indo-European Tree of Language illustration clearly shows both the evolutionary process of the human vernacular globally, as well as its cultural impact and influences on everyday life that eventually formed the structure of the prevalent modern languages of today such as German, English, French, Spanish, Russian, and Middle Eastern dialects.

One thing that is for sure, the subject matter of the world’s language origins, and its dominion over the ongoing growth and progression of civilization in general, is sure to be a topic that is only going to grow in interest along with the potential discussions over it for thousands of more years to come.


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External resources:
Ruhlen, Merritt. The origin of language: tracing the evolution of the mother tongue. New York: Wiley, 1994.
Renfrew, Colin. Archaeology and language: the puzzle of Indo-European origins. CUP Archive, 1990.