This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Saturday, August 25, 2012

Tracing Migration Through Linguistic "DNA"

We have no demographic data for most of human history, so we infer the past from whatever we can find. This is especially true for migration which is hard enough to track accurately in the modern world. But language is a powerful clue to your roots and a paper recently published in the journal Science reports on a sophisticated computer algorithm that has traced the roots of Indo-European languages back to Anatolia, in what is now Turkey. The article is not available without a subscription to the journal, but Nicholas Wade of the New York Times has provided a summary.
Linguists believe that the first speakers of the mother tongue, known as proto-Indo-European, were chariot-driving pastoralists who burst out of their homeland on the steppes above the Black Sea about 4,000 years ago and conquered Europe and Asia. A rival theory holds that, to the contrary, the first Indo-European speakers were peaceable farmers in Anatolia, now Turkey, about 9,000 years ago, who disseminated their language by the hoe, not the sword.
This latest study suggests that the evidence is strongest that Anatolia is the source of this linguistic family that "includes English and most other European languages, as well as Persian, Hindi and many others." This tends to make sense since other evidence suggests that the eastern end of the Mediterranean was the site of domesticated agriculture among humans. Since the dissemination of that revolution was key to the modern world, with dissemination likely taking place through migration from there to other places, it isn't surprising that the linguistic "DNA" should take us back there.

1 comment:

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