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The work was funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. A family tree of Indo-European languages suggests they began to spread and split about 9,000 years ago.The finding hints that farmers in what is now Turkey drove the language boom - and not later Siberian horsemen, as some linguists reckon.Spanish and Portuguese come out as sisters, for example - both are cousins to German, and Hindi is a more distant relation to all three.All other Indo-European languages split off from Hittite, the oldest recorded member of the group, between 8,000 and 10,000 years ago, the pair calculates.In fact, the variations were so common they couldn't be accidental mutations but instead were probably due to natural selection, where genetic changes that are favorable to a species quickly gain a foothold and begin to spread, the researchers report.
Some linguists believe that Kurgan horsemen carried them out of central Asia 6,000 years ago.That the genetic changes have anything to do with brain size or intelligence "is totally unproven and potentially dangerous territory to get into with such sketchy data," stressed Dr.Francis Collins, director of the National Human Genome Research Institute.Around this time, farming techniques began to spread out of Anatolia - now Turkey - across Europe and Asia, archaeological evidence shows.The farmers themselves may have moved, or natives may have adopted words along with agricultural technology.
Words are better understood than grammar as a guide to language history; the same sentence structure can arise independently in different tongues.